Not Every Man Gets To Go To Corinth!

The historic lighthouse and Coastguard station at the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon.

Not every man gets to go to Corinth: so states Horace in one of his Epistles, by which he meant it was not the lot of every person to enjoy fully the pleasures of life, since Corinth was associated with luxury and fine living. This past weekend Lori and I had the pleasure, metaphorically speaking, of enjoying the pleasures of Corinth, not in Greece, but on the coast of southern Oregon and northern California. However the gods, being envious of any who are as happy as themselves, did not let our happiness pass by them without a gentle reminder that we are but mortals, and, as Pindar states, “we are what the day gives us”.

A near disaster that, somehow, we averted, hit the farm on our way out of town. It has been too warm for the trees to defoliate yet this season, and, unfortunately, we got smacked by an ice storm – bad enough even when the trees have lost their leaves and their branches struggle against the freezing rain, which is more typical in December or January. Our maples, oaks, and fruit trees groaned under the burden, but somehow, for the most part, weathered the assault okay, though some of our favorite oaks snapped and lost large branches. The freeze hit on Thursday – in downtown Sheridan and places on the valley floor things were fine. But go 320 feet up our hill and they were not. The trees were still held in their prison of ice when Lori and I left the farm for our little three night jaunt, leaving Nancy in charge.

It was a rather hair-raising way to start our first substantial (substantial (!) – we were away for three nights!) time off the farm in two and a half years. I had promised Lori a trip to the southern coast of Oregon, where we had never been, and then down to the redwoods as a treat for our 29th anniversary. Driving through the coast range was not bad, however, and by the time we emerged on the coast at Lincoln City the temperatures were warm and the roads clear.

The view of the vineyard next door on ice!

A decorative plum groans under its burden.

Our garden under ice.

We continued down to Bandon – Lori had never been further south than Florence, parallel to Eugene, and I had never been further south than Bandon itself, parallel to Roseburg. I had taken a day trip to Bandon during sabbatical in 2009 from Yachats (where Lori and I spent a week while she was on business), and was so taken by the lovely stones on the beach from the Coquille (pronounced ko-kwel) River that I wanted to show Lori the place. We so liked the old town and the little port with its docks, restaurants and shops that we decided to stay there our full three nights and use it as a base from which to drive the rest of the coast and the redwoods. The first afternoon when we arrived we walked the beach near the jetty, collecting beautiful, small polished river stones. That evening we scoped out on a map the best way to get to the redwoods and decided that rather than try to drive all the way to Eureka and Humbolt that we would visit Jedediah Smith Park near Crescent City, which is only two hours or so away from Bandon in northern California.

Bandon Beach at twilight.

The trip down the coast was stunning. The capes and headlands, particularly around Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Brookings, were spectacular. Port Orford is in fact the oldest town on the Oregon coast, and one of only six dolly ports in the world where they launch the vessels by crane. The capes around Port Orford, including Cape Blanco, have amazing vistas of the coastline, with enormous Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs, with also a number of historic lighthouses along the way. While on the north coast there are some great places to see where the mountains plunge into the Pacific – Tillamook Head, Ecola Park, Mt. Neakani and the Nehalem Bay area, down south the vistas are legion, as are the bays that form at the mouths of some formidable rivers – the Alsea, Siuslaw, Coquille, the Umpqua, the Rogue, the list seems to go on and on; some, such as the Coos and Coquille, form magnificent estuaries teeming with birds, shellfish, fish, and seals and sea lions. Then there are the numerous capes that form large bays, such as Cape Blanco and Cape Arago – many dotted with historic lighthouses, which can also be found at the mouths of some of the rivers in the area.

Bandon Beach on a late afternoon in November.

Cape Arago is a place of particular magnificence. Much of the land was purchased in the 19th century by a lumber baron family named Simpson, and the family ultimately donated it to the state of Oregon to be a part of Oregon’s contiguous publicly owned coastline (there are no private beaches or coastline in Oregon, it is all open to public access). Their estate on Cape Arago is now a public park, which includes a gorgeously designed botanical garden that was a part of the property surrounding their original summer house (really a mansion – though certainly not of the scale one would find in, say, Newport Rhode Island). The cape itself is protected by a large reef (aptly named Simpson Reef) and it is one of the best places, because of the gentle slope of the reef that emerges out of the ocean, to see sea lions of all sorts, including elephant seals. In fact, the first notable thing one notices when one gets out of the car at the state park is their barking. We hiked a four-mile trail there that includes a walk through stately and gnarled Hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruce, before emerging up one of the bluffs that overlooks the reefs and the hordes of sea mammals inhabiting it.

A view of Simpson reef on Cape Arago on a pleasant November day.

Looking south from Cape Arago.

The view just north of Simpson’s Reef.

A general view of Shore Acres, what used to be the Simpson’s mansion and gardens.

A general view of the gardens from the gardener’s cottage towards the ocean.

The pond in the Japanese Gardens at Shore Acres.

A view of the mansion with its grand trees standing as sentries.

Our trip to the redwoods was equally remarkable. We headed down to the Smith River region to Jedediah Smith State Park, and the trees in the park were breathtaking to say the least, and, in fact, the place defies description. I had never seen trees of that size or age, or, for that matter, a forest so unspoiled or an organism so vast. We drove the seven or eight mile road through the park, and walked the short but majestic Stout Grove trail. One of the redwoods in the grove, by my measurement, was at least 60 feet in circumference. Majestic; prehistoric; spiritual; primordial; magical; transcendent; august; I am not sure I could find the adjectives to describe a thing so vast and ancient and alive all at once. It was a deep privilege to wander in a forest and realize that some of the trees came into being during the reign of the first Roman emperor.

In front of one of the trees on the road through Jedediah Smith to Crescent City.

The root systems on these suckers are impressive to say the least!

Resting against the gnarls of a gargantuan redwood.

Lori hiding from the potential ambush by a Cretaceous dinosaur!

Lori poses next to a tree on the road to Crescent City.

One of the surprises of the trip: two restaurant finds in Bandon. One night we went to Alloro, a place that adverts itself as a wine bar but is in fact a full restaurant. Lori had a lovely plate of oysters on the half-shell with a spiced cucumber salsa and a grilled pork chop on top of sautéed spinach in a very fine sauce, while I had duck confit empanadas and steelhead grilled with a panko horseradish crust on top of a crab stuffed crepe. We enjoyed a fine bottle of Witness, a superlative 2011 Pinot Noir from the Eola Hills reminiscent of a Sangiovese. Dessert was excellent – Lori had a luscious apple tart topped with a crisply sour Granny Smith sorbet, and I had panna cotta in an orange glaze with carmalized bananas and star anise short bread with a limoncello on the side. The next night we went to a lovely place called The Loft. It was arguably better than Alloro by just a notch. We shared appetizers of grilled baby octopus on top of mashed Yukon golds and lamb sliders – spiced lamb in a lovely puff pastry crust. Lori had a great entrée of salmon grilled with porcinis and pumpkin croquette, and I had a wonderful goat cheese tart topped with beets, smoked salmon, and local greens. For libation we enjoyed a 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Noir. Dessert we shared once again – this time we had crème brulee and a chocolatini – a martini of vodka, Godiva chocolate liquor, and Bailey’s.

Okay, so you can tell my priorities: a medium paragraph on Cape Arago, a brief one on the redwoods, and a longer one on what we ate! For lunch we also hit some seafood shacks that were quite nice, and one day the weather was so beautiful that we sat outside and enjoyed a beer with a crab sandwich. It would have been perfect, except that (and here’s a good one for a slice of life) the table next to us was occupied by two old guys who, we suspect, were drug dealers or aging porn stars who were apparently accompanied by four prostitutes/porn stars – don’t ask how we came to that conclusion, you had to be there!

On the way home we stopped by Local Ocean in Newport, a seafood market/restaurant in the old part of the city on the docks that has a cream of crab soup that is worth a day drive from Sheridan. We also had a fine plate of mixed Yaquina Bay and Willapa Bay oysters on the half-shell. That was our parting shot on the road home to celebrate the 17th of November, the day 29 years ago when Lori first saw the Oregon Coast on our honeymoon. Too full to get in the car after lunch, we strolled the docks for about 20 minutes, accompanied by the barking of tens if not hundreds of sea lions that inhabit the docks around the fishing boats.

Lori peruses the sea lions on the docks at Newport.

The trip was one that cleared the head and raised the heart. However it also filled me with a tinge of regret. Knowing the north coast so well for many years, it made me realize that we had really missed something never visiting the south coast. But we also left with a certain sense of excitement and exhilaration: Bandon is just over four hours away, and the south coast is close enough and rich enough for us to look forward, if the gods and fates will it, to exploring and enjoying its spectacular beauty for many years to come. Back to Corinth.






Of Winos, Stoners, and Hedonists

Kannabis is a great way to teach undergraduates the third declension in Greek and then (provided they are 21 or older as of July 1, 2015), watch them forget it altogether! (Full disclosure – I lifted this image from a local newspaper!)

 

Okay, altogether in the singular:

Kannabis = nominative (as in, Kannabis gets you high)

Kannabeos = genitive (as in, Have a hit of kannabis)

Kannabei = dative (as in, I am giving fertilizer to the kannabis)

Kannabin = accusative (as in, I am buying kannabis)

Kannabi = vocative (as in, Oh kannabis, you are wonderful!)

 

Okay, good, now the plural:

Kannabeis = nominative (as in Kannabises are pretty)

Kannabeon = genitive (as in, The fields of kannabises are lovely)

Kannabesi(n) = dative (with nu moveable as in, I am giving water to the kannabises)

Kannabeis = accusative (as in, I see the kannabises in the fields)

 

And for good measure the dual (because two is always better than one),

Kannabei = the nominative, accusative, and vocative

Kannabeoin = genitive and dative

 

As some of you may have heard, there is a new cash crop that we farmers can now grow in Oregon that had previously only been legal in Washington state, Colorado, and ancient Thrace. The crops, as you might have by now guessed, is what the ancient Greeks called kannabis, more commonly known as cannabis. It made me struggle with what to title this blog post. Here were some alternatives: We’re all Thracians Now (the title will become clear in the next paragraph). Yes We Can(nabis). We(ed) Won. I’m the God of Weed and Wine (an alteration of one of Tyrion’s favorite sayings from Game of Thrones). But I decided to cut to the chase.

The ancient history of kannabis is a rather sad one. Why sad? Because it was everywhere and the Greeks and Romans used it for everything, from making rope to using it to cobble shoes. But, alas, they did not smoke it. That was left for barbarians, such as the tribes that inhabited ancient Thrace, where, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us, the Thracians used to sit in small huts, throw the weed onto a fire, and inhaled the fumes until they laughed so hard they peed their tunics.

Now, it appears, the northern barbaric tribes that inhabit the Pacific Northwest, have come full circle. The vox populi has firmly rejected the Puritan self-denial of their colonial forebears from New England, and voted to go at warp speed to planet hedonism. But in a sense we were already there. Let me explain.

Is it any coincidence that James Beard came from Gearhart? That Portland and Seattle are top restaurant cities? That the two states are full of AVAs? That we surf? That we have naked bike parades? That our next-door neighbor is a 130 acre vineyard named Pinot Noir (not to be confused with Guy Noir)? That we were and are one of the front lines in the microbrew industry? That makers of hard cider are popping up here like chanterelles in October? That we have a truffle mafia?

None of this, I believe, is coincidence. The richness of the region, its produce, its seafood, its game, its ability to produce great wines, apples, all the hops and grain needed for brewing fine ales and beers, is tantalizing. While not true every year, I recall years at the coast where we could go down to the beach and get dinner in the form of razor clams or crab in the space of half an hour. Growing up we ate deer, elk, and bear rump roast; all of it is absolutely delicious. Salmon was a staple, and from the lakes and bays we had plenty of trout, catfish, perch, sturgeon (fabulous wrapped in bacon and drizzled with tarragon butter), halibut (poor man’s food in the 70s, some of the best fish, and now terribly depleted and unaffordable) and rockfish. Sometimes we even had a kettle or two of crayfish. These days local anchovies and tuna are on our plates as well.

I consider myself a world-class hedonist, literally, and I think many friends and acquaintances would agree. My dearest friend, Bob Wagnoner, and I used to travel to Italy together and spent a fair amount of time there, especially Rome, Florence, and Pompeii. He tells me he was always careful with his money and didn’t care much where he ate until he started traveling with me. Of course, that may have had to do with the fact that he hadn’t traveled in Italy as much as elsewhere, and of course, Italy is a food Mecca; but once we started traveling together – hoo-boy! – the meals we had there. A typical evening in Rome would start with a bottle of prosecco out on a balcony to fill that long period between 5-8 when there wasn’t much to do and we were already worn out with nine or ten hours of walking on cobblestones and through museums. At 8 it was time for dinner. Typically we would go to a trattoria with ochre walls and bad art and a few tables with white table-cloths. We would get a nice liter of house wine, and antipasti that could be anything from olives and marinated veggies, to deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, to swordfish carpaccio on a bed of argula with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil. We’d segue into a myriad of different pasta or risotto dishes (tortellini in cream with walnuts, risotto with cuttlefish, gnocchi with tomato and butter ragu, take your pick), followed by a main course (a personal favorite for me was always veal sautéed with prosciutto in a wine and cream sauce – vitello saltimbocca, but there was a place in Trastevere that had great turbot poached in wine with roasted potatoes, and in the winter ox tail stewed in tomatoes, onions, and wine), and then dessert (my favorite was always panna cotta, or cooked cream, which is hard to make so that it’s smooth and not rubbery; nearby in McMinnville at a restaurant called Thistle the chef has the technique down perfectly – he also makes a mean steak tartar) and a drop of grappa (grape liquor) to finish. Bob at one point confessed to me that in the years before he met me (20 years ago now, when he was 64 and I was 31), that it would have killed him to spend money on food like I did (not that we ever broke the bank for dinner), and accused me of corrupting him and further accused me of hedonism. Guilty as charged!

Herodotus would not approve. He, along with other Greeks, felt that soft, gentle, abundant lands, along with good living, made for soft people. Much more admirable were the Athenians or Spartans – the Spartans, who lived in a rugged land, trained only to fight, and in their common messes ate a soup made of pig’s blood, vinegar, and salt. When a fellow Greek from the gentle coast of Ionia (modern Turkey), tasted it, he remarked that he now knew why the Spartans were not afraid to die. Greeks prided themselves in their toughness, and soft living was looked at askance with, one suspects, a mix of contempt and envy. The people of the Greek colony of Sybaris in southern Italy, for example, were renowned for their fine seafood and wines. They were despised in some respects, loved in others, but the opinions of others notwithstanding, lived quite well. All of this has been quite well documented by scholars of Greek antiquity, perhaps most notably by James Davidson in his wonderful study of fine living in ancient Greece, Fishcakes and Courtesans. The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens.

But I digress. When I started this blog I promised I would try to steer clear of politics – and in a sense, given that the matter is now settled, I do not consider this a political matter. It is now a legal, public health, and cultural one, much the same as alcohol. However it should not be too surprising that in the state that spear-headed great Pinot Noirs that we would also eventually say yes to tokin’. We gild the lily here in the northwest: the Alpine vistas of the Cascades, the views of snow capped volcanoes, lunaresque desertscapes, or ocean geysers, of sweeping vineyards and fields as green as Hibernia’s, is not intoxicating enough. We must look at them buzzed on Pinot, on a bottle of Dead Guy, or a hit of weed. There is a story that in the early Renaissance, in Italy, as pasta was coming into vogue, a bishop rebuked the Italians for extravagance in topping their pasta with cheese. They were all going to Hell: Lasciate ogne speranza voi ch’intrare!

I imagine the bishop looking at Tuesday’s returns, turning red with rage, thundering like some modern Savanarola before falling into a catatonic fit of apoplexy. Maybe some Lemon Thai Kush would revive him – or at least help him to tone it down.

 

If the Romans Ate Oatmeal

It’s been so warm that it has taken some time this year for everything to start putting on fall color. One of the pear trees in our garden is particularly spectacular this year, but, alas, the picture as usual doesn’t do it justice!

Now that the fall is here and with it the cold weather, we have once again entered oatmeal season. The thing I hate about oatmeal is, well, I hate it. The only way I ever liked it is if it were made with whole milk and had heaps of brown sugar on top – at least, for my taste, three tablespoons. Poof! What was that?!?!?! That was the nutritional value of the oatmeal being negated by all the added sugar.

So for the most part this fall it has been eggs and whole-wheat toast. That is, until a couple of weeks ago. That was when, in shear frustration at wanting to get the nutritional and health benefits of oats that I finally googled savory recipes for oatmeal. Jackpot! There are, I discovered, plenty of ways to enjoy oatmeal without the sugar. So I played around with the recipes, and finally settled on one I could probably eat every day for the rest of my life.

I start with a good base of savory veggies: I sautéed a whole large diced yellow onion and about a pound of coarsely chopped mushrooms in a thin layer of canola oil. When softened I then add three or four cloves of chopped garlic. I sautee it a bit longer, add in about a cup of chopped ham, then simmer it for about five minutes on low. I put that mix in a bowl and set it aside – it lasts for several days in the fridge. I then cook about a cup and a half of our homemade chicken broth. I throw in a third of a cup of whole oats, and simmer it until thickened; I then throw in three or four leaves of kale and about ¾ – a whole cup of the veggie ham mix and ¼ t. turmeric for flavor. Once done I put it in a bowl and top it with a fried egg; sometimes I’ll add a sprinkle of parmesan.

Dinner, it’s what’s for breakfast!

The only thing not from our farm in this dish is the oatmeal and mushrooms. It’s a sugar free breakfast loaded with nutrients and health benefits, and takes me pretty much the whole day until dinner. It’s great to realize that just like any number of grains, you can have something like this without having to sweeten it. And of course, being an avid Romanist, it has occurred to me in the last few days that, in their early history, the Romans preferred porridge to bread. I always found that really off-putting. But if their porridges were more in the nature of soups or stews as opposed to thin gruel made with water and salt, I could see the appeal.

A Face in the Rain

Rain clouds roll in from the coast – between the mild to warm October, and the rains, our garden is still hanging in there. These days it keeps us in chard, spinach, lettuce, peas, fennel, kale, and some still ripening fruit on our fig and apple trees. 

My anual October shot of the vineyard next door, with its grapes long since harvested. Sorry, no sunny autumnal glow this year – still, the dark grey and vivid yellow makes for a beautiful contrast. I give it two more days, since we are supposed to get over an inch of rain and some wind in the next 48 hours.

As noted in the past blog or two, it has become quiet here on our farm. There are still tasks to do – we are trying to incubate our own eggs to ramp up production next year (hatcheries do not sell chicks until February, which would put us into July for egg production, so we are trying to get a jump), I am starting to research bee-keeping for this spring so we can ensure pollination for our fruit trees, and we are still trying to prep a bit for winter by battening down as many hatches as we can.

We have some big projects facing us next year: repairing the shed barn, figuring out some more of the details of pasture management, and fencing in our backyard for our wanderlust dogs. But we did not beat the fall rains, which have visited us daily this month with varying grades of wet. Still, we remain in drought, and I am holding my breath that the next few months will be saturated. We could use it, despite some of the inconveniences it brings, not the least of which is mud everywhere.

I’ll take the mud, the slop, the slipping, the falling, the mess – and the quiet that lets us sit around the table some mornings, just drinking coffee and watching the rain clouds tumble over the mountains, filling the valley with a comforting blanket of fog and mist. It was the first October here that we have not had a stretch of beautiful fall weather, just clouds, dark skies, and life on the water planet. For all that, it is still a place of stunning and dramatic beauty, and that is the only reason for this post.