Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grayland Beach and Hearty Minestrone Soup

In spite of a weather forecast that showed showers all week we headed to Grayland Beach State Park this weekend.  We knew we would be Ruby bound because of the weather and that we would have to take our rain breaks seriously.  Meaning throw Hailey's raincoat on her,throw on our rain suits and run like hell to beat the next rain shower.

During the summer,Site 74 is one of our favorites-you back up to the ocean and can listen to the waves all night long. Then during the day the jaunt through the dunes is very short and you have miles of flat Washington Coastline to enjoy.  We can still hear the ocean with Ruby's windows closed but sometimes the wind and rain drowns it out.

This was a great test to see how we would endure a brief period of 3 days locked inside Ruby.  We didn't do too bad, did a lot of reading; played Scrabble; surfed the Internet; watched one of my absolute favorite movies "Under the Lighthouse Dancing". Then scared ourselves to death by watching Kevin Costner play a serial killer in the movie "Mr. Brooks"(note to myself when you are one of two campers on the campground loop-don't watch serial killer movies before bed !); and baked some chocolate chip cookies.  All in all a restful weekend.  I will be so glad to get the holding tank fixed next week-these little jaunts to the restroom are getting old, by the time you suit up you either have to make a mad dash or you've forgotten why you were suiting up !

Click on this link to see :What the park looks like on a sunny day.  I knew it was going to be cold and rainy and we both are just getting over colds so soup was definitely on the menu.  I love Minestrone and I'm not sure why I don't make it more often.  When I started to make this I couldn't remember what recipe I used the last time I made this soup.  So as I was surfing the Internet I ran across two recipes that had possibilities.  I  ended up combining the best of both of them and coming up with my own version.  Excellent and  perfect for rainy days on the Washington Coast.

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans and Vegetables
adapted from a Recipe courtesy of Robin Miller at Food Network and Minestrone

Makes 7 quarts (Freezes well-before you add the pasta and zucchini)

3-4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
46 ounces of V8
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
3 Yukon Gold potatoes-diced
1 fennel bulb sliced thinly
2 (28-ounce) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini or navy) beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 -ounce) can garbanzo beans,drained
1 (15 ounce ) can of green beans or 1/2 pound fresh green beans sliced into 2 inch sections
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 cups celery, chopped
2 tablespoons pesto
8 cloves garlic
3 sweet onions chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
4 bay leaves
Sea Salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 cups cooked ditalini pasta (see pasta tip below)  I couldn't find ditalini so I used Chiocciole
3 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced
2 lbs turkey sausage-Italian seasoned type-sliced 1 inch thick
3 cups fresh baby spinach
8 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil ,optional for garnish

At least 2 hrs prior to cooking (overnight is even better), mix the diced tomatoes,all the beans-including the green beans,parsley,garlic, and sea salt to taste(about 1 teaspoon)-let this marinate for at least 2 hours.
Brown the sausage just before assembling your ingredients for the slow cooker and set aside.
In a slow cooker, combine broth, V8,the marinated bean-tomato-garlic-parsley mix, carrots, celery, onion, oregano, bay leaves, pesto, red wine and sausage along with 2 teaspoon each sea salt and black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.
Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini and zucchini . Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Remove bay leaves and season, to taste, with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Shred your spinach and place a cupful in the bottom of your soup bowl. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese over top. Garnish with chopped basil or spinach, if desired.

Pasta tip from amsullivan11 (on Seeing all the reviews about the pasta, I realized I should share an old Italian family trick. When making a pasta for soups, you under cook it by about a minute, then strain and rinse it, and afterwards put it into a big bowl of ice water (mainly a bowl of ice with water to cover. Once it has completely cooled and is very cold, you can add it to the soup, after it comes down from a boil. Removing the extra starches and chilling it to stop the cooking will make all the difference in the world!

Excellent wine we picked up when we first acquired Ruby. Can't wait to try the cabernet we have stashed away. If you ever make it to Geyserville, CA stop by,it's a lovely vineyard.

 Love the ocean,always a surprise just a few feet away

The razor clam shells looked like little ballet slippers strewn all over the beach

 And yes I did find some color in Grayland 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies at Lightning Pine

I'm glad we had that hot spicy chili Friday night because Saturday morning we woke up to frost,brr it was cold last night-23 degrees F. Autumn has definitely arrived in the Methow Valley and Winter is not far behind. When we woke up Saturday morning the grass and bright yellow Cottonwood leaves had a sparkly coating of frost. We were warm and toasty inside Ruby with the furnace running quietly in the background,hot coffee on the stove and the sun shining through the windows. Another gorgeous day ahead of us on the Methow River.

Jim's out fishing  and I decided to take advantage of the apples that surround us.  I'm going to try to  make Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies in my little convection oven.  I'd like to try them on the Cobb Grill but the weather was starting to look a little iffy and I'm not up for sitting in the rain turning pies !

I spotted these beauties over on WhiteonRice's blog and couldn't wait for the opportunity to make them.  And here we are at a campground surrounded by fresh apples right off the tree.  Nothing like picking your own apples. Instead of farm to table this is campground orchard to table ! I picked some Delicious,Goldens and Macintosh apples and mixed them all up for the Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies.

It's always a challenge to set up my mise en place inside Ruby-my workspace is very limited so I have to be really organized and methodical with my prep work.  Rolling the dough was hysterical on my tiny little counter.  I finally got the bright idea to roll out each individual 4 inch circle instead of trying to roll out a large piece of dough and cut out the 4 inch pieces.

Head over to Todd and Diane's blog for the recipe.  The only thing I changed was the pie dough-I'm happily addicted to Kate McDermott's Pie Dough and it's the only recipe I use these days. If you are interested, Kate does regular pie making classes. Check out my SeattlePastryGirl posting about the class by going here.

Click here for the recipe for Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies

Kate's Pie Crust
for a Double Crust Pie (which is what you need to get a dozen hand pies)

2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached White Flour
8 Tablespoons of leaf lard,cut into various small pieces from pea size to walnut size
8 Tablespoons if Kerrygold Irish butter-unsalted,cut into various small pieces like the leaf lard
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
6-8 Tablespoons of ice water (this is just an average,depending on humidity you may use more or less)

Combine all ingredients but the ice water in a large bowl.
With clean hands,blend the mixture together until it looks like coarse meal with some lumps in it.  The lumps make flaky pies.
Sprinkle ice water over the mixture and stir lightly with a fork.
Squeeze a handful of dough together. Mix in a bit more water if it doesn't keep together.
Divide the dough in half and make two chubby disks about 5 inches across.
Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Take out one disk and pit on a well floured board.
Sprinkle some flour onto the top of the disk.  Thump the disk with your rolling pin several times.
Turn it over and thump the other side.
Sprinkle more flour onto the top of the crust if needed to keep the pin from sticking and roll the crust out from the center in all directions. Roll the dough out about 1/8 inch thick.  Using a 4 inch ring cut out circles and wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
Proceed to the recipe for Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies and start processing your apples.

Make these pies-they are so buttery and nutty tasting from the brown butter being added to them.  Absolutely delicious-this recipe is a definite keeper.  I've given some away to our fellow camper neighbors, Virgil and Tara from Moses Lake and still have a platter full on the counter. Ruby's kitchen smells wonderful and the sun is back out, the storm has passed.  

I'm going to enjoy the view, have another cup of coffee and maybe another hand pie.  While Hailey waits patiently for her master to return.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chili in the Methow Valley

We originally planned to head to La Push this weekend, but Jim got word that the Methow River was open for Steelhead fishing so guess where we headed to ?  We left Seattle on Friday,it was 7 o'clock am and it was grey,cold and raining. Once we got to Cle Elum it was sunny and beautiful.  We ran into some brief showers while heading out Highway 97,but the showers were very short lived .  You can see the beautiful rainbow that appeared in front of us.  I always think the appearance of a rainbow is magical and a good omen.

The drive to the Methow Valley area was beautiful. The trees are all changing to the gorgeous reds and golds of the Pacific Northwest.

When we planned this trip our destination originally was the Carlton area. But when we drove by the campground we had planned on staying at ,well let's just say the campground vibe was reminiscent of the Bates Motel. We just about did a U-turn on Highway 153.  We had no idea where we were going to stay but we knew we wanted to stay on the Methow River.  We headed south again because on the way north on Highway 153 we thought we saw a campground outside of Methow along the river . We figured we had nothing to lose and if all else failed,we had enough propane and water to just pull down a forest service road somewhere .  We drove about 18 miles,retracing our earlier drive,  until we saw the turn off for the Lightning Pine Campground. It turns out it was a campground we had caught a glimpse of after all.  I'm so glad we caught that little glimpse.

The campground was just what we were looking for,on the river, quiet and surrounded by fruit trees and beautiful cottonwood trees.  The campground is in an old fruit orchard-with some of the apple trees still filled with fruit. (my next post will show you what I did with those apples-Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies-yummy)

We fell in love with Lightning Pine campground. It's small,the sites are all on firm grassy areas,some right on the river and all in all a beautiful spot. (Only downside is that it is across the river from Highway 153-the river is loud enough to drown out the sounds of traffic and seriously it's not a frequently traveled highway-we didn't mind it at all) When we pulled into the park we were met by Randy, the owner who drove me around on his golf cart to pick out a site and then led us into the site. Hookups here are optional and 110 so make sure you have your converter or are prepared to dry camp. Water is optional and no sani dump. The bathrooms are somewhat rustic but very clean-make sure you bring your headlamp to light the way at night. Hot showers and a laundry are also available. The campground has been in Randy's family for 22 years and its a little gem-we would definitely come back. While Jim was out Steelhead fishing I was able to  hike along the river with Hailey or walk up to the dirt road and take off south to explore. No WiFi but if you have a smart phone it's great reception and if you have the service through your provider you can use your phone as a WiFi hot spot.

Jim didn't have much luck fishing late Friday evening, after we got into camp so he took off early Saturday morning to try his luck again.  He's a catch and release fisherman so I don't plan on having trout for dinner !  Instead, I decided  this is perfect weather for some slow cooker chili.

There is nothing better than a bowl of steaming hot chili on a crisp Autumn Day.  I have got to figure out a way to store my slow cooker in Ruby so that she can make the cross country trip with us next year. Taking the slow cooker just for the weekend is one thing-but finding a spot to hide a 7qt cooker the rest of the time is challenging-thinking about downsizing to a smaller one but I hate to have 2 of the same appliances.  I'll have to give this a lot more thought. Maybe one these thermal cookers is the way to go-anyone have any experience using them ?

I discovered this recipe years ago on  I read many of the reviews and came up with my own adaptation.  This is the only chili I make now-it's so easy and so delicious !  I serve it with a little sharp cheese on top and sides of flour tortillas with Mexican Sour Cream.

Turkey Chili
Adapted from Laura's Slow Cooker Chili at
Makes 6 1/2 quarts and freezes well.

2 lbs lean ground turkey
2 large sweet onions (chopped)
5 cans Ro*tel Original with Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
2 cans Black Beans
2 cans Pinto Beans
1 can Kidney Beans
2 can Mexican Corn
4 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes
1 Tablespoon Cumin
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
Large pinch of Allspice
Large pinch of Black Pepper
Salt to Taste
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place turkey and onions in the skillet, and cook until evenly brown. Add the cooked turkey and onion to your slow cooker. Add in the Rotel,all the beans and spices.Mix well .Cover, and cook 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on High

This chili will warm you from the top of your head to the tip of your toes on a chilly Autumn Day. And it easily adapts to cooking on your stove top if you don't have a slow cooker ! We are both feeling warm and toasty and going outside to enjoy the sunset.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cougar Rock-Mount Rainier National Park

You know the old cliche-No news is good news ?  Well that was our feeling when Poulsbo RV told us they had to send pictures to Roadtrek to see if the out of order holding tank is covered under warranty.  So fingers still crossed tightly that it will be covered under warranty-otherwise money out of our pockets.  And if that is the case,sorry sweetie Vegas will have to be cancelled .  When we heard the news, we decided we had 2 choices-stay home and brood about something that is out of our control for now-or hit the road.  We chose to hit the road.  Since it was a last minute decision and we had  no campground reservations and gorgeous weather we decided to head to the mountains. The beaches are still jammed with everyone taking advantage of our summer weather in October !

We hadn't taken Ruby to Mount Rainier yet and figured this would be a good time to introduce her to one of our favorite places.  When Jim and I first moved to Seattle, I was still working for American Express as a full time employee.  Well, I didn't want to be left behind in Salt Lake City , so I resigned and they hired me on as a contract worker.  What that meant is that every Sunday night I would leave Seattle and fly to Salt Lake,stay the week, do my work and fly back to Seattle on Friday night.  That lasted for 6 months-some of the loneliest 6 months of my life.  The best part of that experience was on the plane coming into Seattle, I always made sure I had a view of Mount Rainier-flying over her was such a welcome relief.  As soon as I saw her, I could breathe again and I knew I was home.

We have never camped at Mount Rainier and I knew the camping season there was coming to an end. We had originally planned on going to Ohanapecosh Campground, but when we arrived it was late in the afternoon and we didn't want to drive another hour around the park to get to Ohanapecosh so we decided to stay at Cougar Rock.  It's a beautiful campground that sits in the shadow of Mount Rainier,down the road from Paradise.  It seems to be a layover or stopping point for hikers more than it is a campground to sit around and enjoy for a couple of days. But since I still have my right knee problems with the inflammation from Lyme Disease-my hiking is severely curtailed so we opted for sitting around the camp and just relaxing.

Uh,I think you left out Volcanic eruptions !

Campsite A-2,can't beat $12 a night and you can see the reflection of Mount Rainier in our rear window.  We fell asleep with that view and millions of stars in the sky.

The should put up a warning about the birds not the bears.  These two were the wildest animals we saw while camping.


Jim thought I was silly when I bought two of these Eagle Nest Outfitters Hammocks but he's definitely changed his opinion !

Sunset on Mount Rainier our first night at the campground.

The beautiful ride to Paradise

Christine Falls along the road on the way to Paradise.

Fall has arrived.

The views from the visitor's lot at Paradise are breathtaking.

On the way back down the mountain we stopped at Narada Falls.  I challenged myself and my crazy knee and walked down the trail to the base of the falls-painful but woot- woot I accomplished it.  The hike up was much easier-slow going but no downhill pressure on the knee.

We had a great fire going for lunch and kept it going into the evening for dinner.  Just sitting around reading,talking,and drinking one of our favorite beers,Fat Tire.

Our favorite equipment in the morning-it's a 14 cup percolator,we drink a few and then fill the thermos for our road trip-it's so nice to have fresh brewed coffee on the road.

Good bye Mount Rainier !  Turns out we were very lucky with our decision to head here this past weekend-it was the last weekend for camping-the campground closed down on Monday, October 8.  Next year we want to make it to Ohanapecosh and definitely to the White River campground.