Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Salmon with Fresh Carrot Puree served in the Okanagan Valley
             Peaches from the Sandhills.  Sweet, odiferous cantaloupes from Ridgeway.  Watermelon and sweet corn from the red clay of the Piedmont. Blue crabs from the Pamlico.  And luscious, juicy tomatoes from anyone’s garden in N.C.

            These are the things I missed and craved while on a two-month long road trip through the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Northwest this summer.

Mrs. Yvonne Swan and her Bumbleberry Pie
            What I ate instead were cherries at their peak, picked by French Canadian college students summering in the Okanagan Valley, and apricots ripened just in time to keep those migrant workers busy.  I actually swooned at the intensity of a just picked nectarine from an orchard with a long-range view of Oregon’s Mount Hood on the Fruit Loop Trail.  

           Peaches from that roadside market were as sweet and juicy as those from home, soothing my homesick thirst.  Juicy pears from Fruitland, Oregon, and the new crop of apples from another roadside stand in Fruitland, Idaho were tasty treats, as well.  

           Bags of sweet onions from Walla Walla were just too big to fit into our crammed car, so a couple had to do.  

          But we had no trouble devouring a great big Bumbleberry Pie we bought from Mrs. Yvonne Swan at the Powell River farmers market.

A SEAFOOD DIET . . . . .

A Pea Crab in a clam???
Hama Hama grilled oysters
Steve opening oysters he grilled on San Juan Is.

       Then there were the oysters smoked over alder wood on a homemade grill,  fashioned like many from the South from an old oil drum.  We screeched to a halt when we saw the smoke and sign on the side of the road at Wallapa Bay, just south of the Olympic National Park in Washington.  

     Or those grilled outside the seafood market further down the coast at Hama Hama. 

     Or those we grilled ourselves that we bought while visiting Westcott Bay oyster and clam farm on San Juan Island. Even though it was high summer, the oysters in the cold waters of that region don’t get milky as they spawn as those in our southeast waters do.  No worries about the “r” months. They roll and knock them about to produce oysters with deep “cups,” which adds to their flavor.

Razor clam, Oregon-style
            Oregonians brag about their razor clams, which they beat until flattened, then bread and fry.  The best from our north to south coastal search were served at the Drift Inn, a nondescript, old saloon-like place with a colorful history, a view of Yachats River, and umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.  With the sunny summer days we experienced, I didn’t get the umbrellas.   “Come back later,” we were told with a roll of the eyes.


And Oregon has crabs.  Big Dungeness crabs, pre-cooked to be cracked and picked, or patted into crabcakes.  We saw two young Mormon men from Salt Lake City, Utah spending their two years on bicycles in Newport, one of the state’s largest ports.  They were catching crabs from the dock using mink as bait. “Like what they make fur coats out of?” one said, trying to dispel my disbelief.  That’s a far cry from the chicken necks we use on our coast.
     As tasty as Dungeness crabs are, you just can't beat a Carolina Blue Crab.  I missed them.

Crab added to Cioppino
Just half of one big Dungeness crab has enough meat for one.
Crabcakes a la Dungeness
            And Oregon has crabs.  Big Dungeness crabs, pre-cooked to be cracked and picked, or patted into crabcakes.  We saw two young Mormon men from Salt Lake City, Utah 

            But what I really came back from this grand road trip with, was a belly full of salmon.  On the occasional nights we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal, we found sockeye and Chinook on the menu.  Can’t refuse local catches of salmon.

Small grilled pieces of a large salmon, hand-caught!
            And then Steve caught his own.  Four beauties, the daily limit, within ONE hour, from a wharf up at the northern end of Vancouver Island.  

       We were staying near Campbell River, the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World,” and were on a day trip to the picturesque Telegraph Cove.  A detour on a scenic road called out to us, and we came upon the wharf on Kelsey Bay near Sayward.  About a dozen fishermen were in the midst of a salmon attack, with schools and schools of spring, or pink, salmon speeding toward the mouth of the - yes, believe it or not - Salmon River.  The jumping fish were being chased in by a pod of – yes, believe it or not – Orca whales.  I couldn’t decide on what to shoot with my camera.

One of the four pink or spring salmon, the catch limit of the day.

            Fishermen (and women) fighting with the pull of a five- to ten-pounder would yell to Megan, the young woman manning a round net the size of a bushel basket. She’d lower it just under the fighting fish, snag it, and yank it up.  It was up to each fisherman to grab the small club and smack the daylights of the fish to prevent it from flapping back into the water.

            While Steve cleaned his trophies, I chatted with an older couple that had just docked their small metal boat.  Their beautiful water spaniel supervised their activity.  “Oh he loves it when we pull our shrimp pots,” the just-retired teacher said.   They had dozens of plastic bags full of beheaded pink shrimp on ice, their crusts still crunchy, and well, pink.  “Here, have one,” she said, offering me a bag.  “See how they compare to your shrimp in N.C.  Just boil them up and then shell them.  Eat them with cocktail sauce or melted butter.”  I never turn down this kind of generosity.  Two pounds of shrimp?

Rocky coasts, so different from NC's 
            Another day, we drove the coast of San Juan. We sat on a rock outcropping to eat our lunch, while watching orcas snort and breach yards from the beach.  Steve also kept his eye on four commercial fishing vessels that seemed to have a rhythm of taking turns casting their purse nets, then bringing them back up to the boat with small dories.  Later that evening, as we sat outside our rental cottage enjoying a brew while watching the sunset, he noticed one of those boats docking, then unloading.  And someone approaching, then leaving with a sack.

Watching seals and sunset on San Juan Island
            “I’m going over to see if I can buy a fish from them,” he said, eager still for more fresh salmon.  He returned triumphant, with a huge sockeye to clean.  “We talked about what I had observed, and how they did menhaden off Atlantic Beach in North Carolina that way,” he recanted.  “And when I asked if I could buy a fish, they said they were not allowed, but could give us one.”  Steve promised to bring them a “donation” of beer the next day.

            Except they didn’t come into port the next day, and not until late on our final day on San Juan.  Steve took them the 12-pack, minus one for tasting, and some chips and dip.  When he came back into the kitchen where I was preparing clams with fresh tomato sauce, he said, “Close your eyes.”  I was chopping parsley and really didn’t want to.  

         Because he was so excited, I gave in.  When I did open my eyes, it was in true surprise.  He had a huge Dungeness crab in each hand. Two big boys! The fishing boat had gone up to Bellingham, WA to sell their fish, and returned with a chest full of crabs.  They, too, were surprised by Steve showing up as promised with beer, etc. and felt obliged to reward him with those beauties.  That almost chopped parsley tasted great in melted butter for the crabs.


            After leaving the coast, and then the Columbia River Gorge, we headed toward the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming.

            While listening to a local radio station, I sang along with Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey for my men and beer for my horses.”  Steve accused me of being a cowgirl at heart.

            I accused him of NEVER being a cowboy when he claimed the steer that stopped our car in the middle of an S-curve in Wyoming’s hills was giving him the Evil Eye.

Former coach Bobby Knight hit one of these guys on the same road just a few nights before our encounter.  It totaled his car.  The cow was called for a blocking foul.
            That was after he admonished me for standing in the middle of the road taking photos of bison standing in the middle of the road a few days earlier.  Those animals will run you over, he warned.  “Didn’t you see them giving me the Evil Eye?” 

Not so small, these buffalo roam!
            I was beginning to wonder if all four-legged animals gave this city-slicker husband of mine the Evil Eye.  Then I remembered when I first brought him home over forty years ago to the farm.  The cows had gotten out, so my dad and I herded them up and chased them up to the barn.  Steve had been stationed at the gate, and told to just direct the cows into the barnyard.  When he saw them “stampeding” toward him, he abandoned his duties.  He‘s never forgotten that, nor lived that tale down.

            Each time he ordered a thick, juicy, free-range beefsteak, I asked if he felt like he had triumphed over the dangers he’s faced with free-ranging steer.  Or when we had buffalo burgers, he’d snort about all the bison that stopped traffic in and around the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone.  He’d won and ate well.

In the beautiful Okanagan Valley
            The original premise of this big Road Trip was to explore the Okanagan, Williamette and Walla Walla wine valleys.  And then the national parks, the Rockies and coastlines got in the way.

            We cleaned ourselves up after camping and hiking  in the Canadian Rockies, and hit the fertile Okanagan Valley, where pinot and merlot grapes grow as beautifully in the very warm summer as cherries and other fruits do.  We had tasted pinots from the Okanagan while on previous trips to Vancouver City and Island and thought they were good.  This time we were bowled over.  They were outstanding in flavor and balance, and the price was right.

            And have you ever met a pinot noir from the Williamette that was not drinkable?  After leaving the coast and heading into the Dundee Hills, the northeastern corner of the Williamette Valley, we wished we had had a stash of pinto gris and noir to enjoy with the crab and clams we downed on the coast. 

            We were heading over to Idaho from the Columbia River Gorge, when I noticed on the map that Walla Walla was about an hour away.  Off we went on another day’s detour, where we found three wineries open late in the afternoon for tastings, and a delightful Mediterranean bistro that featured local wines to pair with local food on their menu.  We could have spent days devouring the area.

Great tasting at this old school building!
The only complaint we had about the wines we tasted and downed in Oregon or in the Walla Walla, WA appellation was the price, compared to the outstanding wines we tasted in Okanagan. 

That didn’t stop us from returning with more than a case of goodies.

On our way to taste Oregon wines, we drove through Corvallis, and sought out Two Towns Ciderhouse, produced by a team of alumni from Oregon State University that has a dynamite food science department housed in Wiegand Hall.  Seems a Professor Ernest Wiegand, no relation, earned his name on the building for helping to develop the process used for mass production of marachino cherries, saving farmers from ruin after Prohibition stopped their cherry liqueur from flowing. Two Towns ciders use local apples, and range from crisp, everyday quaffs to sophisticated bubblies.  We loved the ones we tasted, which made their way into the ice chest. 

Woodford Reserve
            So, all that whiskey that’s downed in one snort in Westerns has to come from somewhere, right?  And why not try local whiskey from established and fledgling distilleries, as we do with local foods, we decided.

            Wyoming’s rye whiskey surprised us with its smooth, deep flavor.  So did Montana’s.  It was almost like sipping Scotch.  But not Bourbon, Steve declared.

            After our last night on the road, just east of Louisville, KY, Steve studied the map.  “We’re going to make a detour.”

            Just off Interstate 64, in the middle of the Kentucky Bluegrass country, there happens to be another trail he needed to follow.  The Bourbon Trail. Which led us to touring and sipping at Woodfood Reserve, where his favorite bourbon is born and raised. 

That sipping detour was a fitting way of spending the last of our 13,000 miles on the road this past summer, and a fitting tribute to our stamina and the adventure. 

We each raised our shot glass and toasted.

Crater Lake is phenomenal!  Blue, blue, blue water.
NOTE:  We made an effort not to eat at any fast food places or chains during our 63 days away from home.  Mission accomplished!  

We tent-camped, and rented  condos, cottages and cabins or motel rooms with kitchenettes so we could prepare our own meals.  When they were unavailable, we used microwaves at filling stations or went to picnic grounds with grills.  

Shopping at Sat. Farmers Markets was fun, as was tasting and buying from roadside stands.  We made an effort to buy local as much as possible, even free range beef and bison, along with locally roasted coffee and local brews.

And we found eating lunch out was a cheaper alternative to dinner.   On the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, we thought we had driven to the end of the world where the road ends in Lund, finding The Laughing Oyster restaurant.  Lovely view, lovely weather, lovely food.  "I wish lunch would last forever . . ." goes a Jimmy Buffett song.  And at the table next door was a gal who grew up in ChapelHill! 

Dinner at Cannon Beach, Oregon

But nothing beats a picnic in a scenic setting!  We were, after all, celebrating our 40th anniversary.

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