Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring Has Totally Sprung

It has officially been spring for two months. So... I may be a little behind schedule posting about spring, but better late than never!

First of all, spring means it's been a busy time in the garden. Here was an end-of-winter harvest for dinner one night, sometime back in early March. I had overwintered beets, arugula, kale, green onions, and also grown oyster mushrooms in the basement.
I pulled out the brassicas that were bolting, such as kale and brussel sprouts. But not before taking advantage of their little buds before they opened into flowers. I don't know why we don't eat these commonly, but they are really similar to broccoli raab and quite delicious. There are people who say you don't want to eat the leaves of kale and other plants after they bolt since they turn bitter, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any one who could taste the difference between bolted kale leaves sauteed in a dish.
Speaking of less-common veggies, I also harvested a bunch of stinging nettles. Once steamed, the leaves lose their sting and are incredibly nutritious, versatile, and tasty spring greens. I made pesto, and also a nettle-spinach spanakopita with a bunch of fresh mint from the garden.
Around the same time, the Smitten Kitchen blog had a recipe for very green and fresh Spring Vegetable Potstickers. I had never made potstickers before, but as she wrote, folding them is pretty intuitive and they turned out great.
A few weeks back I went a little crazy with rhubarb at the Ballard Farmer's Market, which left me wanting to explore new rhubarb dishes. Again from Smitten Kitchen, I found this fabulous recipe for Rhubarb Streusel Muffins which I made twice. 
There was also Rhubarb-Apple Crisp, a nice change from the usual strawberries. The most unique thing I did with those stalks though was to add sugar, water, a vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and cardamon pod, simmer and reduce it into a sauce. Then I strained the liquid off and added club soda and vanilla ice cream for a Rhubarb Float. The chunky remainder of the sauce went on yogurt. So simple, but such a good idea!

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I had no idea until this past month that Ballard has a handful of awesome nano breweries. I made up for lost time by visiting several, including NW Peaks, Reubens Brews, and Peddler Brewing Co. I had an amazing oak barrel aged saison at Hilliards.
Last but not least, I saw this pig going through a coffee drive-through. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Enchanted Valley

It's been an amazingly warm and sunny spring in Seattle. As soon as the weather got nice, I started getting antsy to get out of town and into the woods. It's still early for any higher elevation snow-free backpacking, but the Olympics are always a good bet for valley rainforest and coastal hikes. My sweetie suggested a weekend backpack to Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park- 13.5 miles one-way to get to a valley with steep sides, numerous waterfalls, and an old forest-service cabin. It would be a decent amount of mileage but not much elevation gain, and the trail was snow free, so we decided to go for it!

Saturday began with breakfast on the edge of Lake Quinalt- coffee, egg breakfast sandwiches, and homemade yogurt panna cotta with the waves lapping on the shore.
Then we drove east another half hour or so to the trailhead. It started out as a typical beautiful Olympic hike- constant river sound, glowing moss, huge old-growth cedars, humid air, sculptural exposed root balls, and lots of little critters.

There were also a ton of creek crossings. Some had logs as bridges, and some were shallow enough to stone-step across in boots. But there were two crossings that were pretty dicey- either the bridge had washed out or the water level was higher than usual. There was really nothing to do but ford the ice-cold river. Luckily, we both had brought sandals, but even then the varying water depth and strong current made for a pretty sketchy crossing. We passed a couple people on the trail who had fallen in and saw several pairs of wet boots.

Also, after about six miles in, it became evident that no trail crew had done any maintenance yet after winter storms. The trail was in pretty rough shape. There were huge fallen trees constantly that we either had to go under, over, or around. In other spots there were piles of branches and debris. In one place there was a sign that said "Please Close Gate" but the gate had clearly been demolished by falling limbs and there was just a hole left in its place.

We knew there were remnants of an avalanche from a few weeks back from trail reports and the ranger. The mass of snow had melted considerably and was now melting holes into the river.
I have never seen a bear in the wild and really wanted to see one on this trail. Toward the late afternoon, we came across this guy! When he saw us he took off up the hillside. Later we saw another bear that was busy eating and didn't want to seem to leave his spot, and then on Sunday we saw a third! 
It was a gorgeous and varied trail altogether, with the early-season factors like high rivers and trail condition making it that much more epic. The icing on the cake was reaching the valley that evening, and getting to sleep in such a stunning and lush place. It felt like something out of Lord of The Rings, like we had truly stepped into another world or time.
The warm dry weather left shortly after we ate dinner, and all night it poured rain. In the morning, it was misty and wet, cool but not too cold. We made breakfast under the cover of the forest service cabin porch. Then we headed out back down the trail, in the rain but in good spirits. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Round Two for Beekeeping

One year ago, I started my first hive of honeybees, making for a fun and challenging and fascinating spring and summer of figuring out how to be a beekeeper. I winterized the hive and closed it up in October, but unfortunately the hive didn't make it.

It was very disheartening, but losing hives is sadly par for the course. So I decided to try again this year, going for round two and two hives. I got my packages from the Ballard Bee Company, who pick up over 250 packages in California and bring them back to Seattle on a custom trailer. By the time I got to his house to get my bees, there was just this pile remaining. Just this pile of about a million bees.
I got one package of Italian honeybees, which is what I had last year, and one German variety called Carniolan. These varieties are the most popular for backyard beekeepers as they are both gentle and well-suited to the Pacific Northwest climate. The bees come as 3 pounds, which is roughly 10,000 bees. There is also a canister of sugar water for them to eat and one mated queen inside a little queen cage.
A couple friends came over as moral support and assistants for the install process.
It's important to get the bees out of the travel package and into their new home as soon as possible so they don't get too stressed. I started with the Italians, taking the sugar water canister out and removing the metal wire with the queen cage.

Only, there was no cage attached to the wire! I stared in shock at the lone metal wire as I replaced the canister so bees would not escape. Somehow in the transport process, the cage had broken free, and now as I looked into the package, I knew the queen was down there, not visible, under the pile of thousands of bees.

I didn't know what to do. It was one of those moments where I wanted to slough this problem onto some one else. Let some one more experienced take over. I imagine that is often what it is like to be a parent- not knowing what the right answer is, but knowing that you are the only one who can deal with something so you better step up. I sent a friend inside the house to get tongs, and decided to just try to find the cage that way. It took a few tries, more bees escaping than usual, and a good bit of adrenaline, but I eventually got her cage out!

Here's the Italian queen, alive and well.
We taped the wire to the cage and then I very carefully removed the cork stopper and replaced it with a marshmallow before putting the queen in the hive.
Then I dumped the rest of the bees inside, put on the cover, and left the package sitting open by the entrance where the stragglers would eventually find their way to their new home. You can see that the travel box still has quite a few bees inside. When I came out the next day, EVERY bee was gone. That means the dead ones too. It's normal for a few bees to die in transit, so the living bees had removed their bodies. They are just crazy hygienic like that. So cool.
Four days later, I checked to make sure the bees had eaten the marshmallow and queen was out of her cage. I saw both queens, alive and well. Here you can see her, larger than the worker bees and marked with a red dot. The official dot color changes each year, so apparently 2013 is red. Now the goal is to see the queen start laying eggs!