Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tales of a Thanksgiving Turkey

As I was growing up, our world would center around a turkey for a whole week before Thanksgiving. Mom was a very particular cook, and most especially particular about her turkeys. From the choosing, thawing, cleaning and finally cooking, all her processes had to 'go by the rules'. When we were small, it was only a grocery store turkey Mom could afford. But it would be the biggest Tom in the bin. Later, she heard hens were juicier, so from that point on we had only smaller, juicier hens. As her food budget grew, Mom graduated to getting her turkeys from a local meat market, selected by herself and the butcher. And the final stage was when she decided that only fresh birds would do. No more frozen, rock-hard hens for her!
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I would stand at the sink and watch as she would unwrap the carcass, remove the giblets, then carefully wash every part. She looked carefully for pinfeathers, and even squeezed out imaginary ones until her very high standards were met. The turkey then went back into the refrigerator until the big day, while the giblets were boiled for the turkey stuffing she would make in the morning.
On Thanksgiving morning, she would put on her 'turkey apron', a red and white affair trimmed with red rickrack, and get to work. The dressing was made first, then stuffed warm into the waiting turkey cavities. They would be stuffed until the skin pooched out with overfull pockets of goodness. Next the trussing tradition was started. Mom had a whole bundle of skewers, clips and miniature spears. She would spear and clip every movable part, then wind thick string around them, circling and wrapping until the turkey was trussed in a perfect coil. A coating of melted butter followed, brushed over every part of the cold, pale skin, followed lastly by a thorough salting. Mom would then load the stuffed, trussed turkey, breast down into the handed-down, very special turkey roaster, which had seen years of duty in producing holiday feasts.
Many stoves were used over the years to roast Mom's turkeys, including the old gas range of her Aunt Minnie, and ending with a modern 'in-the-wall' variety. She would set the oven to 400 degrees, and roast the covered turkey for exactly one hour. My Dad would then be summoned into the inner sanctum to help with the messy ritual of turning the turkey. Mom had learned from Aunt Minnie, that starting the bird breast down would make the juices flow to that part of the meat. But in order to get a perfectly browned, beautiful end product, the turkey would later have to be turned breast up. After that was accomplished, along with a good bit of grumbling, and grease flying, another thick basting of butter was applied and the turkey returned to the oven to finish cooking at the perfect lower temperature.
My job was to set the table with the good china, silver and napkins while Mom completed her cooking of the rest of dinner. I loved this job, and took great pains to see that the table looked as beautiful as Mom's turkey would. The smells wafting from the oven and kitchen, along with the sounds of the football game on TV, made the whole job wonderful.
Mom's turkey never had a pop-up timer to tell when it was finished, as she had her own methods. When it was deemed the perfect moment, it was removed to a special platter, and the trussing un-done, so Dad could spoon out the wonderful dressing. Mom's apron would come off, and the turkey would be carried proudly to the table, for the oohs and aahs that were Mom's reward. As it was carved with the knife, specially sharpened for the occasion, the endless discussions would begin on whether or not this years' turkey was the best, the juiciest ever, which of course was the objective.
For us kids however, we were most thankful for the gravy that came from the turkey, that flowed around our mashed potatoes and stuffing. We would let the adults figure out which turkey was best one, while we cleaned our plates and asked for more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pork Loin, Recipe of the Week(s)

We haven't posted any recipes for a while, so I thought today would be a good time to post this one. It's snowing outside this morning, and this main meat dish is very tasty on a cold late autumn day. First you buy a nice pork loin, just plain, which has not been marinated. This is usually pretty big, so I take mine and cut it up into four parts, and freeze them until I need them. Each quarter will feed 4-5 people, or 2 with leftovers : ) Then you make your own marinade and place the pork loin in a bag, along with the marinade, and let sit for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator. In the above photo, I was having a good sized group for dinner last week, so used two of my cut up portions.
Then you take the pork loin out of the marinade and put it in a shallow pan on a rack, and discard the remaining marinade.

You place the pan in a very hot oven, which you turn down immediately to seal in the juices, and roast until 160-170 degrees.

Slice and serve to hungry people, and there's not much left!
Pork Loin Recipe
2-3 lb. (or any size) Pork Loin
Marinade: (cut in half if you are only cooking 1/4 of the pork loin)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 t. salt
1 t. thyme
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1/2 t. rosemary
1/2 t. marjoram
1/2-1 t. Italian seasoning
Add all ingredients for marinade in a bowl and mix. Place pork loin in a plastic zip-lock bag and add the marinade. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 24-48 hours. Remove tenderloin from the refrigerator, and place on roasting pan with a rack in place. Put the chopped onion and garlic on the top of the pork loin, then discard the remaining marinade. Put meat into a pre-heated 450 degree oven, then immediately turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and roast until a meat thermometer shows 160-165 degrees. Take the pork loin out of the oven, tent it with foil and let stand 10-15 minutes before slicing, to set and finish cooking to 170 degrees.
This is basically a no-fail dish, and it has become my go-to meal of choice for company. I even roast it on the barbecue in the summers. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roaming in the High Desert #2

To continue where I left off on my last post...after our tailgate lunch, we headed west across the high desert. Bethel's grandparents, Joe & Ruth Williams had been early desert ranchers and pioneers. Five years after their marriage in 1891, they bought the property for their Rock Island Ranch, south of Riley. This was one place I had never been to visit, and we decided that it was a good day to try and find it. It is not an easy place to get to. For one thing, there is a lot of surface water out in this part of the high desert, which I found very interesting. Another factor is that this land belongs to the Wildlife Bird Refuge, and no one is allowed in when the birds are nesting and then nurturing young. It seemed like a good day in October to go exploring and try to find the spot. My mother and father-in-law had not been there in many years, but remembered some of the landmarks in the vicinity. We did a lot of driving back and forth and around bodies of water, before finding the area that looked most promising. The photo below shows Iron Mountain in the distance, with a newly mowed wild hay field to the left of our rutted road.

The insurance man decided that this was as close as we could get, to the place we wanted to go by road, so he turned left and we headed out across this hay field.

After a lot of bumping, we got as close as we could, and parked the truck. We thought we needed to climb the ridge at the right and then hike across the field for a ways. I was gun-ho, and the insurance man was pleasantly putting up with me. Dad decided to take a nap while we were gone, and Mom thought she would stay with him.
Mom remembered that there was ridge behind the original house, and on the ridge had been a pile of man-placed stones. We thought we could see that on this ridge, so headed out for it. After we had gone a ways across the field I looked back and saw that Mom was trekking along behind us. She had decided to come look too.

This is Joe and Ruth Williams, at their marriage on May 9, 1891, in Burns.

This is the Rock Island Ranch as it looked at the turn of the century. Joe and Ruth bought the property in 1896, and lived there four years. (If you click on the photo you can see the details much better). There is a long wooden boardwalk running from the house out to the fence, and the family is standing on it. This must have been necessary as the entire valley could fill with water in the spring. The ranch served as a way station for anyone crossing the desert. Joe never charged them for food, a night in the barn or feed for their horses. The ranch adjoined the large Double O Ranch, and Joe contracted out to the Double O each summer to harvest their wild hay. He also had wild hay on his own ranch. He ran a hay crew of about 30, and contracted with many other ranches in this area. Joe also had a herd of cattle, wild horses and 5 or 6 hogs each year. One thing Joe always did was make butter and cream. His daughter Louise remembered: "He would milk the cows, then make butter from the cream and put it in firkins. A firkin was a wooden container made of strips of wood about 3/4" thick, then bound together with iron hoops. He made the firkins himself. One firkin held a number of pounds of butter, that were not made all at once. One batch of butter was put in then tamped down solid and covered with brine. At the next churning time the brine was poured off, more butter added, then it was covered with more brine and so on, until it was full. The brine was made of water and salt, strong enough to float an egg. The butter would keep for a long time in that manner. After several firkins were filled, he would take his butter and cream to towns like Prineville, Riley, Burns or even Baker City, where he found a ready market with hotels, stores or individuals." One reason I put all that in (besides it being interesting) is that the only building left on the property is the milk house that Joe built. Nature has done it's work over the last 100 years in obliterating all traces of man's dwelling there, except for this milk house. Joe decided to build a milk house to keep his dairy products cool, and used hand-shaped sandstone blocks. He formed each one, this put them together with mortar layered between, and made his walls three feet thick.

This is how the milk house looks today. The very sturdy front wall is the only thing left standing.

This is the backside, and the wood that's visible is the collapsed roof.

The insurance man decided to climb the ridge behind the milk house and take a look at the pile of rocks. It's been there a long time, as his Grandma Louise remembered it from her childhood. The rust color of the stones is from the lichen. This afforded a great view of the ranch as Joe and Ruth would have seen it, as well as the milk house.

I decided to take a close-up shot of the milk house wall, to show the stones and mortar and the careful building that Joe did. All that work, and they were only there for four years!

Many people have inscribed their initials into the soft sandstone over the years. This is the oldest one: W.P. Dwyer from N.Y. in 1905, five years after Joe and Ruth left.

The insurance man, as Joe's great-grandson, added his initials on this October day in 2010. And the legacy of this man's achievements in a harsh environment is honored.

Monday, November 8, 2010

High Desert roaming

Several weeks ago, when we were in Burns, we spent Saturday out in the High Desert. We drove to the old Hurlburt ranch, and with permission spent the morning poking around and looking at things. The house was abandoned many years ago due to flooding high waters. There are natural springs all around the house, and large ponds of water even now. This is how the house looks now. We explored all around and in the house. It was sad, as there was evidence of a hasty departure where some things were just left. The pack rats had made a nice mess of things inside. But we could see how it was once a nice home for the family.
This is the old entrance into their 'yard'.

There were a lot of out buildings on the property to explore, but we left everything just the way we found it.
This outbuilding was just Mom's size.

To the right of the house was a very old tree, that was still beautiful although many limbs had grown too heavy and broken, or had been struck by lightening during a storm. They were wreaking havoc with the roof of the house.

Here is the base of the tree, pretty large for the desert!

An old abandoned tractor out front, and Mom tried it out. It hasn't moved in a very long while.

After we finished our exploring, we had a tailgate lunch that Mom had packed. Things always taste so good out of doors! Next post, I'll tell about our afternoon adventures.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beauty in Football Part II

I just couldn't resist showing the picture Samuel made for us. Now that's beauty in Football!

Beauty in Football??

What a thrill this week to find our mighty Oregon Ducks finally #1 in the polls. It is so much fun this year to watch them play, and have a REALLY good team to cheer for.
I am normally a Washington Huskies fan (and still am) and have enjoyed watching Jake Locker, although wishing he had a better team to back him up. But this year, another favorite team is winning big time, and I am enjoying every minute of it! My grandson Samuel even sent us a wonderful picture he drew for us of Oregon playing the Texas Longhorns.
This enjoyment of football started very early for me. Now you could say that the above football was strategically placed for the photo (by my Dad?).... but the photo below is of me with my two cousins Tom and Bill the next summer.

Now just who is playing with the football? The two boys don't seem much interested in it. Proof positive, it is the game for me. My Dad only wished I had turned out to be a boy, so I could actually play the game. Instead I grew up going to Huskie Stadium with him, as he taught me the game and it was something we could enjoy together.
Now the insurance man and I have enjoyed football season together for almost 40 years. But I think this may be among the most memorable. GO DUCKS!