Thanksgiving Preparations

Is it too early to start preparing for Thanksgiving? It's not if you are raising your own turkey. And that is what we started doing today. Eleven of them to be exact. We have never raised turkeys before so I only ordered six just to keep it manageable. They arrived in the mail and when we opened the box we were surprised to find eleven poults. I'm guessing that the hatchery expects a high mortality rate which gives credence to the stories I hear about turkeys being born trying to die.

If you are interested in ordering a pasture raised turkey this year, let us know and we will put you on the list but won't ask for a deposit at this time since we don't have a real sense of what the survival rate is. We'll keep you posted on their progress.

Have you ever raised a turkey? If so how about sharing your experience with the rest of us?

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

One day I was making an apple pie, and as one thing leads to another, I thought some ice cream would go nicely with this. While vanilla ice cream is certainly a classic pairing with apple pie, it just seemed a little boring. Then, I thought, since caramel goes well with apples, why not make some caramel sauce. But then it seemed like it was getting too involved so I decided to make a caramel ice cream. A little internet search turned up this gem from my latest favorite dessert author, David Lebovitz. I lack the ability to describe just how delicious this is. David is bold enough to claim that this recipe is better than the caramel ice cream at the famed Berthillon in Paris.
If you have an ice cream machine and get it out and try it for yourself. It's more involved than a simple vanilla ice cream but certainly worth the effort. Here is the recipe in David's own words. I see no reason to deviate from it.

If you like this, you will probably enjoy his books, The Perfect Scoop and Ready For Dessert.

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it's just about to burn. It won't take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don't even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.

The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they're intended to do.

And since we are well into the ice cream season, be sure to check the latest posting from The Kitchenmage about no cook ice cream base. I have not tried it yet but it is high on my to-do list.

And what about you? Have you tried making your own ice cream? Do you have a favorite or unusual recipe to share?

Summer Stock

Summer seems to have finally arrived and so has our summer livestock.
Two weeks ago the Freedom Rangers arrived. Freedom Rangers are not a military rescue unit. They are the heritage breed broiler chickens that we free range on pasture and offer a sustainable and humane alternative to factory farmed chickens. They have been in the brooder for the last two weeks but they are feathering out nicely now and were introduced to pasture today.

Freedom Rangers

The new batch of pigs arrived a week later. That was a case of deja vu all over again as the first pig slipped under the hot wire and led us on a two and half hour chase. We finally gave Jessie, our German Shepherd a chance to help and she did a fine job of chasing the little porker right into my arms. The only problem was that when I grabbed him he started squealing like a stuck pig. Now this set Jessie off who kept trying to bite the pig while I'm trying to carry him over to the pig pen. I'll give Jessie the benefit of the doubt that she thought the pig was trying to hurt me and this was her attempt to protect me. After his second escape five minutes later I was seriously considering roast suckling pig for dinner. We finally got him settled with his siblings and now that he knows where his food and water is he seems content.

Escapes and chases notwithstanding, the pigs continue to be our favorite critter to raise. Probably the biggest challenge is keeping them cool on a hot day as they
have no sweat glands. Nothing like a little mud to keep a pig cool.

And sometimes those with sweat glands like to play in the mud.

The Freedom Rangers will be available by late August, the pigs will be ready by mid October and Crippen Creek Spa Mud is available year round. Call or email to place your order.

Country Life (and death)

We were driving down Middle Valley Road recently when we spotted a bald eagle in a field. He appeared to have a firm grasp on some creature and was feasting mightily. We couldn't quite make out the object of his desire but fortunately we had some binoculars in the car and saw that the cuisine du jour was a coyote. We watched him for several minutes and took a few pictures but our zoom lens is woefully inadequate.

Meanwhile three turkey vultures circled overhead patiently waiting their turn. I love the fact that we can actually stop our car in the middle of the road for over 10 minutes and not create a traffic jam. After the bald eagle got a bellyful the turkey vultures swooped down and one by one took their turn, presumably in some sort of pecking order.

They are lucky that our neighbor Andrew didn't find the coyote first as he probably would have scooped him up to make a new hat.

I'm trying to encourage Andrew to turn the pelts into some sort of a travel bag and start a new line of "carrion" luggage.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Since starting our "green acres" adventure four years ago, we have added livestock as our knowledge, courage and infrastructure would allow. We started easy with three laying hens that we housed in a small portable chicken coop, commonly called a chicken tractor. Anxious as a kid at Christmas, I went out everyday to check for our first egg only to be disappointed. Several weeks went by with no eggs. However one day after returning from a weekend in Portland, I checked the coop and found two of the largest eggs I had ever seen. I told Kitty that we had hit the mother lode but upon close examination I found that one egg had the word "ouch" written on it and the other, "Happy April Fools Day." A neighbor had stuck a couple of peacock eggs in the nest. Well, those hens never did turn out to be productive layers but since then we have had as many as 30 hens and have been amply rewarded with more than enough eggs.

After some experience with laying hens we graduated to chickens that were raised strictly for meat.

As part of our continuing education about where our food comes from, we learned some butchering skills.

One of the best things we learned here is that chicken feet make the best stock.

Pigs were next and by now most of you know of our hilarious pig chase. We look forward to getting our third batch of pigs around the end of May. So far they have been the most delightful animal to raise.

Last year we added ducks, a delicious addition to the farm.

For the past couple of years we have been working on fencing our pastures and now have at least one pasture that could contain some sheep. Although we have not done much research on sheep we have acquired enough confidence and courage to take on our first flock of sheep. Admittedly much of that courage comes from the fact that our neighbor Andrew Emlen who sold us the flock has pledged to mentor us.

Andrew Emlen teaches the fine art of shearing

The breed is known as Black Welsh Mountain Sheep. They are a small hardy heritage breed, obviously with black wool that may be of some interest to spinners and weavers. Of course as their name implies, they originated in Wales and were first introduced to the United States in 1973. There are several characteristics of this breed that especially appeal to us. One is that they are resistant to hoof rot, a common malady for sheep here in the rainy Columbia Pacific Region. The second is that they seldom need human intervention when they are lambing. Sticking my arm up a sheep's bum in the middle of the night is not high on my bucket list. Third, they are great mowers. I'm always excited when I can get one of our animals to help with the chores. They're quieter than a tractor and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Last but not least, they are a good source of meat, especially as mutton. While mutton has had a disparaging reputation over the years, it is being rediscovered with a new found appreciation. Mutton is loosely defined as lamb over two years old. My limited experience is that it tastes like lamb but just a little more so. In other words, it's more flavorful. This makes me think that people who do not like mutton either had some really old mutton, improperly cooked or perhaps they just don't like the taste of lamb.

As novice farmers four years ago, the "yolk was on us," but we have learned a thing or two so you won't be "pulling the wool over our eyes" quite so easily now.

We have not decided just how big a flock we will raise and how many will be for meat and how many to keep as mowers. So we would like to hear from you. Do you have experiencing raising sheep? Do you enjoy eating lamb? How about mutton? Are you a spinner or weaver with any interest in black wool?

Duck Tales

2009 may have been the Year of the Ox for Chinese New year but it was the year of the Duck here at Crippen Creek. In last month's post we talked of the Muscovy ducks that we were raising and mentioned the addition of Norman the Duck to our flock. His picture garnered much attention and many inquiries. I mentioned some of his exploits on Facebook and Norman developed such a following that he almost had his own fan page. The first chapter in our story tells how Norman the Duck came to Crippen Creek in the words of his rescuer, Norm Sharp.

"This duck was abandoned in a fenced rain 'catch pond' in Oregon City during mid-summer. I noticed it was different than the wild ducks that come through and soon learned it could not fly. I assumed it to be domestic, most likely a cross. At the time I was learning a classical Brazilian piece on the guitar, written by Marco Perreira, called Marta. As I went through the catch pond area, early in the morning on walks I would whistle that song as I walked out of the neighborhood. The duck started swimming toward me when I would whistle Marta, and it would swim next to me until I disappeared. I began to feed it some duck food I picked up and it knew me and would approach closely when it heard the song. This continued throughout summer and fall, I, all the while threatening to capture the duck and call my friends Don and Kitty.

The opportunity came in this recent freeze. After several days of sub freezing weather, the pond was frozen virtually solid. At about 3AM, the 9th of December, my little peepers opened and I said to myself, enough. I waited until the most reasonable hour of 530AM, 17 degrees, and with salmon net and dog carrier in hand I went over the fence, dressed in black. The duck was in a small part of the feeder creek that was not frozen and had about a three foot circle of unfrozen water around it. I approached the duck and it jumped out of the water and I attempted to net it. We played chase on the frozen ice for about a minute until I managed to get the net over it. Once I grabbed it, it calmed down, like it knew me and completely relaxed. We went to the little kennel and it now became a part of the back seat of my Volvo.

It went to work with me that morning, as I called several rescue places with no luck, er, duck. friend Don was coming to Portland to catch a train. I surprised him at Union Station around 4PM and we chatted for a bit. Don needed a coat as he'd forgot his: I needed a home for the duck. We walked to the barnyard smelling car and viewed the duck. Don said it was a fine specimen.

I took the duck home that evening, made a cage out of the dog pen, some hay, and a cover (it escaped and was following me around the garage). It seemed agitated at first, then I managed to pat its' belly. It calmed, rested in my arms and I petted it for a long time. Lori, who had patiently helped, looked and said, "it's name is Norman."
It would have been Marta had it been a girl.

So, at 5AM in the morning the next day, myself and Norman were en route to The Inn at Crippen Creek Farm. When I arrived, I placed Norman in the lot with all the other ducks and chickens, who eyed him with suspicion (city duck vs. country). He tentatively stepped from the cage and entered into the world of Crippen Creek Farm. Several nervous looking white ducks were posed like gangsters, checking him out. He chose a solid tactical position, as Normans are prone to do, and returned the stares, sizing up the new locker room. The chickens cared less and acted like they were waiting for a bus downtown.

I did write an impassioned plea to the owners of Crippen Creek to place Norman into a semi-retirement status with the caveat that he behave and that his captor have visiting rights."

Norman the Duck Finds His Special Purpose

When Kitty and I returned from our North Dakota trip, we found Norman the Duck settling in at Crippen Creek but still trying to figure out his place in the flock. He was pretty much a loner (that should have been a red flag) but then noticed that he was making nice with our Kahki Campbell. Then one morning, it was like someone flipped a switch. Just as Navin R. Johnson in the movie, The Jerk, found his 'special purpose,' so too did Norman the barnyard stud. Although he hung out with Campbell, it was the Muscovy hens that became the objects of his "affection." But there was just one little problem that I forgot about. We have one more Muscovy duck...Boris, the drake. I should have known from raising chickens that with only 3 hens, that 2 drakes is one too many. Now Norman the Duck turned his attention to Boris and challenged him for the pecking order. Although Boris is twice the size of Norman, he is younger and inexperienced and no match for Norman. Normally we do not interfere with pecking order squabbles among our livestock. It's just the natural order of things. However, Norman's challenges went beyond the pale. He had clearly established his dominance but tormented Boris, pushing him into the electronet fencing and and pecking most of the hair off Boris' neck.

Boris the Muscovy Drake

Norman the Duck Goes to Duck Jail

We are not mean to our animals and we do not allow mean animals a long stay at Crippen Creek. Before decapitating or relocating Norman, we decided to see if rehabilitating his was a possibility. So we incarcerated Norman in the chicken tractor for several days. Hoping that a few days of solitary confinement would allow Norman to reflect on the error of his ways, we released him It took him less than 30 seconds to find Boris and pounce on him with a vengeance. So it was back in the slammer for Norman until we could figure out our next course of action. I didn't think a mean duck would taste very good so he was spared that fate. In the meantime, our beloved Campbell died and her death will remain a mystery. Norman had an airtight alibi and there was no sign of a predator.

Norman the Duck Gets a New Home

Sunrise and Jessica Fletcher

We had to make a decision soon about Norman's future. Turning him out in the wild did not seem fair since he couldn't fly and keeping him penned up surely would have brought about the wrath of some animal quackavists. So I turned to our good friends Jessica and Sunrise Fletcher. They have an idyllic pond on 40 acres at Lucky Mud with no competing ducks. Fortunately they agreed to adopt Norman and he took to their pond like...well..... like a duck takes to water. (sorry about that last line...I couldn't resist). Thus ends the saga of Norman the Duck.

Norman on the pond at Lucky Mud

Future duck tales will be about their preparation and consumption.

If It Looks Like A Duck

If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck but doesn't quack like a duck, then it's probably a Muscovy duck. Last summer when I first entertained the idea of raising ducks, I found that the most common breed available for meat was the white Pekin. This is what stores sell as Long Island Duckling. When you think of duck as being fatty or greasy, this is the duck in question. This is the duck of choice for commercial purposes because they gain weight rapidly and are ready for the market in 7 to 8 weeks. Just as we reject the Cornish Cross hen because it also was bred for rapid weight gain, we decided against the Pekin.

After consulting with one of my favorite chefs, we decided on the Muscovy. The Muscovy is the duck of choice in finer restaurants as it is prized for its lean meat and rich flavor. Of course, just like the chickens that we raise for meat this breed of duck also takes twice as long to reach market weight of about 8 pounds.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Muscovy does not quack like a duck. These ducks make quiet hissing sounds or breathy squeaks. They have amazingly large feet and sharp claws which enable them to perch in trees or on rooftops. And they have a face you will never forget. Wart-like growths called caruncles surround their beaks and eyes. Most of the ducks we are familiar with are Mallard derivatives. We have two ducks that fill that bill(pun intended). One of them is Campbell, a gift from Sarah and Conner (not to be confused with Sarah Connor of The Terminator) of Diggin Roots Farm. Campbell has been raised with the chickens and has been a good egg layer until recently. Our most recent addition is Norman the Duck who may be a story unto himself one day.

We raised 16 ducks this year with the intention of butchering 13 of them. Three lucky ones will get the chance to breed. We butchered 6 of of them a few weeks ago with the help of three guests that wanted a hands-on farm experience. We are always happy to show guests how their food gets from farm to table. By unanimous agreement, the next 7 ducks will get processed by a professional. It was the plucking that did us all in. Even scalding and paraffin was of little help.

You can expect to see duck making an appearance on our menus in the coming year, most notably as duck confit in cassoulet.

Laura Morgan first grade teacher extraordinaire
3 day old Muscovy Duckling

Muscovy Ducks

16 week old Muscovy Ducks

Plucked Duck

Muscovies perched on the roof of the chicken coop

Khaki Campbell

Khaki Campbell

Norman the Duck

Norman the Duck

What is your experience with duck? Have you raised them? Plucked them? Have you ever eaten Muscovy Duck?

Perfect French Toast

Whenever we go to a bed and breakfast inn, we have high expectations for breakfast. I don't necessarily expect something exotic and it certainly does not need to look like 10 chefs got together to assemble it. We like common dishes prepared uncommonly well. That is the criteria we use here at Crippen Creek when we plan meals for our guests.

We start with the best local ingredients possible and then prepare it with heart and soul. Whenever I am dissatisfied with a particular dish, it sets me on a search for a better technique or recipe. That was the case with French Toast. For months now I have been searching for the Perfect French Toast. My criteria for French Toast consists of thick slices of bread saturated in a sweet batter, a golden and slightly crispy exterior with a moist custard-like interior. The finished product should fall somewhere short of bread pudding.

Most recipes call for some sort of hearty French or Italian bread but I find their
crust to be too tough and the crumb too chewy. After all we are trying to come close to the bread pudding stage.

My internet search became a daunting task. Lacking the time and resources of America's Test Kitchen, I needed to become proficient at perusing a recipe and deciding whether a particular recipe might fit the bill. After dismissing hundreds of recipes, I bookmarked several that seemed to have potential.

There was one in particular that called to me and I finally got around to trying it out last weekend. Voila! The Perfect French Toast! I discovered the recipe on a blog called Breakfast At Tiffany's.

She calls it Coast Toast and near as I can tell, it comes from a restaurant in La Jolla, CA known as The Brocton Villa Restaurant.

I followed the recipe exactly except for the bread. Our friend Jon Peterson is fond of saying, "there's not a lot of traffic on the highway of the 'extra mile'." So we went the extra mile and made brioche, which turned out to be the absolutely perfect bread for French Toast. Here is the recipe for the French Toast and if enough readers post a request for the brioche recipe, I will do a future blog on that.

A Golden Loaf of Homemade Brioche


batter soaked brioche

Brioche French Toast with maple syrup

Brioche French Toast
Brioche French Toast with a custard-like interior

But what about you? What qualities do you like in French Toast and do you have a favorite restaurant that makes a great French Toast?

How To Weigh A Pig

Don't be too hasty to dismiss this post as useless information. We never dreamed that we would need to know this but here we are needing to weigh our pigs and without a scale. It wasn't so bad when we first got them. Pick them up and guesstimate their weight at about 35 pounds.

35 lb. weaner pig

But what do you do when they get to this size?

First, you have to measure their girth.

Then you measure their length.

So here's the formula: girth x girth x length divided by 400 = the weight.
This particular pig had a girth of 46 inches and a length of 50 inches putting it's approximate weight at 265lbs. That's a good market weight and so at this very moment these dear creatures are on their way to hog heaven.

dressed and ready for the butcher for cutting and wrapping

That's all we will be raising and processing this year so if you missed out and are interested in half of a pig next year, let us know and we will put you on the list for next Spring. Till then you will have to settle for coming out to Crippen Creek for pork dinner.

Autumn Leaves

"The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold."
-Johnny Mercer

The first day of Autumn made a grand appearance yesterday. The sugar maples are turning.

The orb weavers have set up shop on the garden fence.

The pumpkins are ripening.

I think Squashzilla the 37 lb. Hubbard Squash is ready.

Early autumn is such a schizophrenic time of year. On a beautiful day like this, all the outdoor chores of mowing, woodstacking and weeding call but all of that great harvest that you worked so hard for all summer has to be put up. No wonder farmers raised such large families. Extra harvest hands are always welcome. We will make it worth your while.

Garden Update

Country living has presented us with many challenges and high on that list of challenges is gardening. When we are perusing the seed catalogs in January, it's easy to get carried away with visions of a garden that could feed a small town and end up ordering more seeds than we could ever hope to plant. As planting time draws near it takes a great deal of resolve to resist planting too early when it feels like Spring is here. Last year we boasted of growing prize winning eggplant, a feat that would be all but impossible without our hoophouse. Oh that wonderful hoophouse that was going to give us a head start on this year's garden, was destroyed by a January snowstorm. So we rebuilt it in early Spring only to have a sudden windstorm destroy it 3 days later. We are hoping that the 3rd time is a charm. We are pleased to report that the hoophouse is holding up and this year's garden looks like our best yet in spite of getting off to a late start. We have harvested a few tomatoes, over 100 pounds of potatoes and several batches of the best looking basil we have ever grown. The eggplant is prolific. The strawberries were sweet and plentiful. The garlic was dismal and we have not figured out why. The tomatillos were a bust. Who knew that you needed two plants? The broccoli raab came and went too quickly but escarole is coming on strong. This is definitely our best looking garden to date and Kitty has done it almost single-handedly.

Garden 2009


Escarole (Italian soul food)

Green Beans ready for the freezer



Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese

And how did your garden fare this year? Do you have any good tips on growing garlic?

The Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,
those days of soda and pretzels and beer."
-Nat King Cole

We have certainly had our share of hazy and crazy days this summer, but not many lazy ones. Summer is always a busy time with gardening, raising chickens and pigs and hosting guests. This summer we have been especially priveleged to host a number of Elderhostel guests. Elderhostel is a non-profit organization that offers adventure and educational programs world wide. It's also proof positive that there is life after 50. We found our guests to be intelligent, fit and enthusiastic about life and learning new things. One of those programs, Kayaking the Lower Columbia, takes place right here in Skamokawa. After a hearty breakfast every morning, the guests head out for an adventure with some of the best kayak guides in the country from Columbia River Kayaking.

At the end of the day, the guests return to the inn for dinner followed up by an evening program that might include a demonstration of primitive tools used by the Chinook Indians or a fantastic musical program related to the Lewis and Clark adventure.
As long as we are talking about kayaking we need to take a moment for shameless self-promotion and direct you to a wonderful article in, believe it or not, Forbes Magazine on The Forgotten Columbia River.

Here's a few photos of the many wonderful guests and evening programs we have enjoyed this summer.

Music from the Lewis and Clark Trail

Primitive tools of the Chinook

Have you ever been on and Elderhostel program? What did you think of it? There's still room for the September program.

Sweet Irony or Logical Conclusion?

Is it sweet irony or just living life to its logical conclusion when a retired cop becomes a pig farmer? As I ponder that question I find it a bit amusing that the phrase "pig pile" was a part of my vocabulary as a young policeman and has now made a reprise in my new career. Then, it referred to a number of cops piling onto a suspect that did not want to go peaceably. Now, the meaning is more literal and refers to the natural tendencies of young pigs to lie close together for warmth. It is also ironic that calling someone a pig is used so derisively as these animals are undoubtedly the cleanest (though you wouldn't know it to look at them), most intelligent and most lovable of all the barnyard animals. Not to mention the tastiest.

pig pile

At any rate, we love raising pigs and this years' batch is now available to order by the half or the whole at $3.50 per pound hanging weight. A $100 deposit is required to confirm your order. Additionally, you pay the butcher $.55/lb for cutting and wrapping. They will be harvested around mid or late October and will be processed at Butcher Boys in Vancouver,WA. They cure the hams and bacon without nitrites. And of course we raise them humanely, naturally and without chemicals.

Our guests love watching the pigs frolic, wallow and root. Some even love to get in the pen and help with the feeding. One recent guest could easily be dubbed the "pig whisperer" for her ability to charm them. It took me a couple of weeks to get them to warm up to me. But then again she is prettier than me and smells better.

The Pig Whisperer

Have any of you ever raised pigs? Do you have some stories to share? Have you tasted pasture raised pork ? The meat is denser and more pink in color rather than being "the other white meat."

Spring Chinook

The treasures of the Pacific Northwest are many indeed and high on that list is the coveted Spring Chinook commonly known as "Springers" here on the Lower Columbia River or King Salmon by neighbors to the North. The Spring Chinook season is well over but just a couple of days before it ended I kiddingly asked my friend, Ed Shrock (a very avid fisherman) when he was going to catch me a "Springer." He not so kiddingly told me to go out and get a license and he would teach me how to catch my own Springer. So I did what he said, and he did what he said. I think Ed realized the good luck value of a beginner.

fishing for Spring Chinook on the Lower Columbia River

Preparing the fish was the next challenge but fortunately Spring Chinook seems to be almost foolproof due to its high oil content. So here is a recipe for Spring Chinook with Salmoriglio Sauce. This Sicilian sauce, known in Sicily as sammurigghiu is a delicious finish for any fish and even a grilled steak.

Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce
(inspired by Marcella Hazan)

2 pounds of fish fillet
white vinegar
sea salt
lemon juice
1/3 cups dried bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Pour a little vinegar over the fish fillets, then rinse them under cold, running water. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and arrange them on an ovenproof baking dish. Rub a little salt over the skinless sides of the fillets and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Spread the bread crumbs over the fillets and drizzle them with the olive oil. Cover and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the fish until just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer the fish to a platter. Pour the salmoriglio sauce over the fish fillets and serve.

Salmoriglio Sauce

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh oregano
6 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

Pour the olive oil into a bowl and slowly whisk in the lemon juice and hot water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped oregano, parsley and garlic. Warm the sauce slightly and pour over cooked fish or steaks.

Spring Chinook with Salmoriglio Sauce

And just for good measure, we preceded this meal with another Northwest treasure, Linguine con Cozze (Linguine with Penn Cove Mussels).

Linguine con Cozze

Picking Up Chicks In Skamokawa

It's easy to pick up chicks in Skamokawa and the best place to do that is at the post office. Here's how it works. First, you find a hatchery that has the kind of chicks you want and place your order. About 2 days after they ship them, the post office calls you and tells you to come in a pick up your baby chicks.

We ordered 50 red broilers from J.M. Hatchery in New Holland,PA. These red broilers are derived from heritage breeding stock and meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge free-range program. Their natural behaviors and instincts have been preserved resulting in a slower growing, more flavorful, and arguably more nutritious chicken. The typical chicken that you buy in the grocery store is a Cornish cross that has been bred for quick growth often resulting in chickens that can't support their own weight and often have heart attacks.

Red broilers are the perfect chicken to use in recipes like Chicken Ossobuco, Chicken Cacciatore, Coq au Vin or any recipe requiring a slow braise method.

Our red broilers will be available for harvest around the first week of August. Just call (360)795-0585 or email us at to order. Of course you won't be picking up chicks because by then they will be hens or roosters.

Have you ever experienced one of these heritage breeds? Have you noticed how agribusiness has conditioned our palate to a bland mushy bird under the guise of being tender?

Happy Earth Day!

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
-Nelson Henderson

What are the chances that I will ever sit in the shade of this tree?

Today is Earth Day but we celebrated last week by enrolling in our local Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program(CREP) and planted 1000 trees along the riparian zone of Crippen Creek as part of an ongoing conservation effort.

This program offers funding to farmers and ranchers to help conserve priority salmon stocks.While many landowners find themselves reluctant to enter into any agreements with a government agency, we do not find ourselves so fearful. Our experience thus far in working with our local conservation district has been a very positive experience. Sometimes government gets it right.

While alder trees are readily abundant adjacent to the creek, conifers are conspicuously absent. Douglas Firs, Hemlock, Spruce, Port Orford and Western Red Cedar now dot the riparian zone along Crippen Creek.
Planting them was no picnic as the rain and hail were coming down sideways on the day we planted them. But the real challenge now is managing them and protecting them from voles, beavers, deer and elk.

Let the planting begin

For all of you tree huggers that missed out on the planting, we have a thousand weed barrier mats to lay around the trees. Let us know if you want to help. Fun, food and drink are guaranteed!

Sunday Gravy, The Big Ragu

Sunday Gravy, The Big Ragu
Gravy? Sauce? Sugo? Ragu?
Learn how to make this classic dish in one of our Spring Cooking Classes.

If you are an Italian-American, Sunday Gravy was probably a ritual in your family as it was in mine. You might know the term gravy as it gained notoriety in the HBO hit, The Sopranos, but certainly it is not universal to all Italian-American families. Many of you know this classic dish in its simplest form as spaghetti and meatballs. But it is really so much more than that. Our family did not call it "gravy." We simply called it "sauce." My father tells me that growing up they called it "Il Sugo", meaning "the sauce," as opposed to "un sugo" meaning one of many sauces. This is the sauce that mama prepared, that simmered on the stove all day with meatballs, Italian sausage, possibly some pork ribs or braciole. For me, this is the ultimate comfort food, my proverbial 'last meal' request. This is the dish that is synonymous with family and tradition. This is the most often requested meal by our children for special occasions.

Our own family ritual went something like this. After nine o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we stopped at DiVincenzo's Bakery, and stood in a long line to get two really fresh just-out-of-the-oven baguettes to take home. You had to get two because one would be half eaten by the time you got home. Mom would get the sauce started, while Dad turned the radio on to the Italian Hour. When that was over, then it was a mix of Sinatra, Dino and Jerry Vale from Dad's record collection. Meanwhile, we lingered over the Sunday paper while the meats simmered in the sauce or "gravy". As the sauce cooked down, the aroma filled the house stimulating your appetite to a seemingly insatiable level. Every now and then you had to go in the kitchen to give the sauce a stir so that it didn't burn,and of course snitch a meatball in the process. It's important to make more meatballs than you think you will need. Mixing and rolling those meatballs on Saturday night was my job and little did I realize then, the beginning of my love for cooking.
By one o'clock the windows were pretty well steamed up and the smell of tomato sauce permeated all of your senses. Finally we got to sit down to a repast that could have fed an army. If unexpected guests arrived---no problem. There was always enough. We always served the pasta first (except we didn't call it pasta then---we called it macaroni). Then came the meat followed by the salad. And dessert? Fuggeddaboudit-who had room for it? Well perhaps we had room later that evening while we were sitting around watching Ed Sullivan.

Most Italian-American men are fiercely loyal to their mother's 'il sugo' and I am no different. I will be so bold as to say that I think I have improved on Mom's sauce by virtue of now using locally raised grass-fed beef and by making our own sausage from pigs that we have raised ourselves. We know what they have eaten and not eaten.

An interesting side note is that my mother who is not Italian, certainly learned to cook like one. And you can too. Sunday Gravy, The Big Ragu is one of the many offerings in our Spring Cooking Classes at Crippen Creek.

Our most popular class, Artisan Bread Baking is on the schedule several times. We have also scheduled a class on Italian Country Cooking,(how to eat and entertain, Italian style), Pizza and Calzone and Just Desserts (in which you can learn how to make a Perfect Tiramisu). We keep our class size small so that you get lots of personal attention, accommodating the aspiring novice as well as the seasoned veteran. It's a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, or better yet come out for a Culinary Getaway Weekend. Consider a gift certificate for a cooking class as a great alternative to buying more stuff. A complete listing of our classes is now listed on our website. We hope to see you at one of our classes.

OK, you are probably ready for some pictures by now.

Dave Speranza learns how to make meatballs

passing on the tradition

Speranza Family Meatballs

Meatballs made from local beef and pork

homemade Italian sausage

Homemade Italian Sausage compliments of
Our dear Porchetta

pasture raised pork from Crippen Creek Farm


Tutti a tavola! (everyone to the table)

Liz Speranza and Dan Fazio

Don's comfort food

meatballs, sausage and pork ribs
for carnivores only
Here are a few shots from our cooking classes.

artisan bread baking students

Artisan Bread Baking
learn to make this Italian Country Loaf at home

Rustic Italian Bread

Italian Country Cooking Class students
students from Italian Country Cooking Class
enjoying the fruits of their labor

And finalmente....

A Perfect Tiramisu
A Perfect Tiramisu

Now what about you? Do you have a version of this classic dish in your family? Or were you lucky enough to have an Italian friend that invited you to Sunday dinner? How about sharing your own ethnic family traditions with our readers? Are there some cooking class themes you would like for us to offer?

We will continue to highlight Italian-American cuisine in future posts but in the meantime you might want to visit
Italyville and Proud Italian Cook. I love these blogs.

Buon appetito!

From Our Kitchen

Now that we have managed to get through most of the winter storm clean up, I hope to get back to writing about more enjoyable things such as food. So let's catch up on what we have been cooking and serving at the inn lately.

Gourmet, July 2008

This is really more of a cracker than a bread. It's a great alternative to bread and far better than any crackers you can buy in a store. What's more it's really simple to prepare.

8 3/4 oz of flour (1 3/4 cups)
1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary (plus 2 sprigs)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
3/4 teaspoons of kosher salt
1/2 cup of water
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil (plus more for brushing on)
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the water and olive oil. Gradually stir into the flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Turn dough out on to a floured work surface and knead gently 4 or 5 times.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece into a 10 inch round. The shape should be rustic and the dough should be thin.

Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Lightly brush the top with additional olive oil and scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing them into the dough. Sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt. Bake until golden and browned in spots, for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack and break into pieces to serve.

From that same issue of Gourmet comes this great accompaniment.

1/2 cup of assorted olives
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
4-5 oz medallion of fresh goat cheese

heat olives, thyme, oil, lemon zest and pepper in s small saucepan over low heat just until fragrant. cool to room temperature, pour over the goat cheese and serve with crisp rosemary bread.

One of my favorite dishes to serve in the winter is osso buco. The classic preparation of this dish calls for veal shanks slowly braised with vegetables, wine and broth. Given the high cost of veal these days and the difficulty in finding humanely raised veal, we decided to substitute one of our pasture raised chickens. Since our chickens have firmer muscle and a little more chew than a supermarket chicken, they are a perfect candidate for the slow braising process, and the flavors married beautifully. The meat just falls off the bone.


1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2/3/cup finely chopped carrot
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 strips lemon peel
½ cup olive oil
8 chicken thighs (preferably with bone in)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes coarsely chopped, with their juice
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried basil
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Saute the onion, carrot and celery in the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil
About 8-10 minutes…until soft. Remove them from the pan and set aside in a bowl.
3. Dredge the chicken in the flour with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in the pan and when it is quite hot, brown the chicken pieces in the oil on both sides.
4. When all the chicken is brown, remove them from the pan and drain off most of the fat. Add the wine and boil briskly for 3 minutes scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
5. Return the vegetables to the pan and set the chicken pieces on top, add the broth, tomatoes and spices and lemon peel. If you are using canned broth, hold off on the salt until after cooking. The liquid should come up to the top of the chicken. Add more broth if necessary.
6. Bring the contents of the casserole to a simmer on the stove top. Cover tightly and place in the lower third of the preheated oven. Cook for about 2 hours, carefully turning and basting the chicken pieces every 20 minutes. When done, they should be very tender when pricked with a fork, and the sauce should be dense and creamy. If the sauce seems to thin when the chicken is done, remove the chicken to a warm platter, place the uncovered casserole on top of the stove, and over high heat briskly boil the sauce until it thickens. Pour the sauce over the veal and serve piping hot.

Risotto Milanese would be a good choice to serve with this as is a POLENTA WITH BUTTER AND CHEESE, which is what we chose to do.

2 cups coarse-grained cornmeal
1 tablespoon salt
¼ lb. butter
8 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a large heavy pot.
Add the salt and turn the heat down to medium low so that the water is just simmering, and add the cornmeal in a very thin stream, stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep the water at a slow, steady simmer while stirring.

Continue stirring for 20 minutes after all the cornmeal has been added. The polenta is done when it tears away from the sides of the pot as you stir. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.

Adapted from THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK by Marcella Hazan

A new recipe from Bon Appetit was the perfect ending for this meal

2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
1/4 cup dark-roast coffee beans (such as French roast; about 3/4 ounce), crushed with mallet in plastic bag
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
2 cups half and half
8 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt

Bring 1 cup cream and coffee beans to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let steep at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Stir 2/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, swirling pan occasionally, about 11 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add remaining 1 cup whipping cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir over low heat until caramel is smooth. Stir in half and half. Strain coffee-infused cream into caramel cream; discard coffee beans in strainer.

Whisk yolks, salt, and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in cream mixture. Strain custard into large measuring cup.

Arrange eight 2/3- to 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups in roasting pan. Divide custard among ramekins. Add enough warm water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or custard cups.

Bake custards until just set in center, 30-40 minutes. Transfer custards from water bath directly to refrigerator. Chill uncovered until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Usually I caramelize the top by sprinkling sugar on them and heating them with a blow torch or under the broiler of the oven. I used a different technique that I have come to prefer.

Stir 1/2 cup of sugar together with 3 tablespoons of water. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup comes to a boil. Stop stirring and allow it to boil until it turns a deep amber color. Remove from the heat pour about 1/2 tablespoon on to each custard. It will turn into a shiny glass-like caramel.