Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend Camping in Winter

Winter camping might sound cold but in Washington that is not always the case. We have had rather warm weather for the last week or two so rather than pout about the bad snow conditions we decided to go camping. After our recent new years trip to Olympic National Park I was eager to go back. Our destination was the Olympic National Forest the east side of the Olympic Mountains. This is an area I had never explored before and I was enticed by the fact that it is only two and a half hours from home. I think I have a little fascination with the rain forest. I particularly like the the way if makes you feel so small.

A day spent hiking in the rain forest can sort of put you in your place and remind you that as an individual you really are just one more animal trying to survive. This feeling is not only realized in the size of the trees but in the length of time they can live. The trees in a coniferous rain forest can live many centuries and is some cases more than half a millennium. Just image that a tree sprouted the year you were born could be alive for 25 generations after you. Even in the middle of winter the rain forest is amazingly alive, it would seem that not one photon of light is wasted for photosynthesis. The moss ensures that everything is green and alive, covering the fallen down trees, boulders and even steep cliffs. Of couse non of this would be possible without the water. Even though our rain coats were hardly necessary, water dripped from every branch and leaf and could be heard trickling or thundering everywhere in the mountains.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Food Happenings in the Odell Cross Household

Maple Almond Butter

My lunch today with Ryan's homemade bread, my mom's strawberry jam, and my almond butter.

Peach raspberry jam

Ryan's healthy pumpkin bread (recipe courtesy of CFW)
I suppose it was a bit premature to call an end to the canning season a couple of months ago. When I saw more local frozen sliced peaches at the grocery store I couldn't say no. I finally used them up, along with some raspberries I froze last summer. The peach raspberry jam is my favorite of all the jams I made this year. I put in a little more sugar than I normally do for peach jam to balance the tartness of the raspberries. I used about 3 lbs of sliced peaches, about 2 cups of raspberries and 1 1/4 cups of sugar. I do think that next time I would use slightly less raspberries, they quickly overwhelm the peaches. I've decide this jam is also the prettiest of all the jams I've made. I'd like to get a photo of the jars in the sunlight, but sunlight tends to be scarce in Seattle and I am never home during daylight hours anyway. Maybe this weekend...

I also made my own almond butter last week. I was inspired by a recipe on the "Food in Jars" blog. I roasted the almonds with a little bit of maple syrup, and then put them in the food processor with some peanut oil. Mine didn't turn out quite as creamy as the example I saw, but I didn't want to push my food processor too hard and the motor got really hot! I'm not a huge peanut butter fan so I do like trying different nut butters. I had never really considered how easy they would be to make myself until I read the recipe on Food in Jars. Ryan baked more bread this weekend and with my mom's strawberry jam, I was able to eat an all-homemade sandwich in my lunch today. I forgot how delicious my mom's strawberry jam is. It's hard to compete with something that good.

Tonight Ryan tried a healthy pumpkin muffin recipe posted by our friend Catherine on her blog. It's a good thing they are yummy because the recipe made A LOT of muffins as well as the small loaf Ryan is holding in the photo!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Table Mountain Cabin

This weekend I joined a group of friends for a ski into a forest service cabin in the eastern Cascade Mountains. The Cabin is situated on top of Table Mountain and was a 7 mile ski in from highway 97. In the summer the cabin is road accessible so the ski in was not too steep as it followed the road. That said, the trail did gain 2000ft in elevation. Until about two weeks ago we had been having a great winter for snow, then we got hit by some really warm weather and rain. There was plenty of snow for the ski in but no soft snow for playing in. The cabin was well equipt and fire wood was even provided, all we had to do was split it. We used a sled to bring in group gear and food; we ate very very well. The cabin was rented for two nights which gave us all of Saturday to tour around tand enjoy the views from the edge of Table Mountain. From the top of the cliffs that surround much of Table Mountain we could see many of Washington's larger peaks including Mount Adams and Rainier. On Friday it was mild and we had clear skis both nights for star gazing and enjoying the nearly full moon. Saturday was also my friend Ryan's birthday. We celebrated by going for a late night ski in the moon light and spelling out his name with headlamps for the camera. I am certain it is a birthday he won't forget.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spring Break in Iceland

Somewhere in Western Iceland, 2005

The town of Bolungarvik in the Westfjords. JRR Tolkien supposedly based Mordor on this part of Iceland.

Me jumping off at dock in the Westfjords at about 11pm in June 2005.

Reykjavik, 2005

The site I worked on in September 2007 near Reykjavik. As you can see, the weather was less than ideal for digging in the fall.
Ryan and I recently bought tickets to Reykjavik for my spring break in March. Since buying the tickets, we've been inundated with questions that we normally hear about Alaska: Isn't it going to be cold there? Isn't it going to be dark all the time? Isn't it expensive there? Depending on how you look at it, the answers are sort of, no, and yes.

Iceland has a relatively mild climate for its latitude. Warmed by the North Atlantic Current, the average winter temperature in Reykjavik is about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. I've been watching the weather on my iPhone and over the last month the lowest temp I've seen is 25. Today it's 45. All you Alaskans are probably thinking that doesn't sound so bad right about now! The average for March is 38. I have a friend who spent his spring break in Iceland several years ago and he said they did encounter some blizzard conditions, but overall the weather was fine. We know that it will probably be a little chilly in March and we will probably see rain and maybe snow, but that is not enough to deter two Alaskans from enjoying their spring break.

While everyone thinks of darkness when they think of the near-Arctic in winter, we will actually be in Iceland for the spring equinox. We arrive in Reykjavik on March 21, the day that everywhere on Earth receives 12 hours of daylight. After March 21, the northern hemisphere will start getting more daylight than the southern hemisphere. For the rest of our trip, we will actually be getting more daylight in Reykjavik than we would in Seattle! Here's to hoping we actually have sun!

Iceland is a very expensive place to live and visit. It has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Just like Alaska though, touristy things will be cheaper in the off-season. We did get a pretty awesome deal on our plane tickets, so compared to other trips we could have taken for this vacation, I think the costs of getting there vs. being there will balance out. Iceland Air has a direct flight from Seattle to Reykjavik (7 hours) and in the winter, it is cheaper than flying from Seattle to Anchorage! Part of the reason this seemed like such an appealing spring break trip to us is that we could get somewhere far away for a relatively reasonable price without having to waste too much time in airports, changing planes, etc.

We plan to spend a couple of days in Reykjavik sightseeing, soaking in hot springs, and visiting friends. We're also going to rent a car and drive around the ring road. We'll probably do some hiking, see a glacier or two, stop in small towns and go to the quirky little museums that make Icelandic culture so unique. Despite having been to Iceland twice, I have not seen most of the island. The first time I was there I spent nearly the entire month in the Westfjords taking a field school. The Westfjords are a remote area with few towns, harsh weather, and spectacular scenery. I'm glad I had the opportunity to spend time there because it's a part of Iceland that I doubt many tourists visit and I don't think we'll have the time to make it there on this trip. The second time I stayed in Reykjavik and worked on two archaeological sites in town. I'm looking forward to exploring more of Iceland this time. I've included some photos from my previous trips.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fresh Bread

My wheat/white bread.
Ever since I started cooking for myself one of my favorite things to make in the kitchen in bread.  My Mom use to bake bread fairly often and there is nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven.  I love the taste and texture of fresh bread and will all the jam and jelly Molly put up this year we need something to spread it on.  I used to always make a simple french  bread mostly because the recipe is predictable and I can count on it rising.  I still use the same recipe but now I do 50/50 whole wheat / white flower mixture.  I feel that this gives the bread a little more nutrition and makes it hardier.  I would like to start adding more grains and seeds and stuff to the bread, again to make it more nutritious and hardy.  One of the things I love a making bread is that the ingredients are so simple and that I almost always have what I need on hand.  The final reason I love making bread is that it give me an excuse to have the oven on for a while and make the kitchen nice and warm.  Just picture it: a warm kitchen, the smell of fresh bread, homemade strawberry jam that gives off a little wisp of steam as you spread it on the bread still hot from the oven.  If your mouth isn't watering you should probably see a doctor.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Dish Dinners

I've spend a lot of time listening to NPR at school and I often hear interviews with authors of cookbooks. Every book they talk about sounds awesome, but "Perfect One-Dish Dinners" really sounded like the cookbook for me - so I ordered it. I've always been a fan of one-dish dinners. They're appealing to me because I don't have to worry about all my dishes being ready to eat the same time, they're usually fairly easy to prepare, and I feel like I eat less when I eat dinners with only one dish. And let's face it, cooking hasn't exactly been one of my priorities while in grad school and I think it should stay that way if I ever want to finish my PhD!

Everything I've tried from "Perfect One-Dish Dinner" has been very yummy. My favorites are the quick creamy lasagna made with cream cheese and the jerk chicken chili. I LOVE cream cheese and had never thought of using it in lasagna, but now I will never go back.  The jerk chicken chili was also an interesting recipe, a mix of a bunch of ingredients I never would have thought of putting together myself including cinnamon and chocolate. As the chili cooked, it smelled like a weird concoction and mix of flavors that should should never have been put in the same pot together. After it simmered and the flavors blended though it all came together and it was delicious. I put about half of it in the freezer and I can't wait to take it out and finish it. One of the things that made the chili great was the tender chicken. The recipe called for a whole rotisserie chicken which I bought at the grocery store. I had never bought one of those before, but it was so tender and delicious it definitely won't be the last.

I've been freezing a portion of most things we cook to use in our lunches later on. I'm amazed at how much food we've been able to cram into our little freezer: two 3lb bags of sliced peaches, several containers of frozen fruit, a bunch of game from Kelly and Alex in Montana, several salmon fillets from Mollie and Mark in Alaska, and the leftovers of our one-dish dinners. Can't wait to eat it all! Let me know if you'd like any of the recipes, I highly recommend this cookbook!


Sunday, January 9, 2011

A few more favorites from the Olympic Peninsula

Ruby Beach

North Fork Trail

Reflection in my sunglasses at Point of the Arches
 I promise this is my last post about the Olympic Peninsula (I can't promise for Ryan though)! The combination of perfect weather and beautiful scenery kept us snapping away with our camera. The top two are some of my favorite photos of Ryan that I have ever taken. His orange jacket and vest worked as a perfect contrast to the blues and greens of the water and mossy forests.

The bottom photo was sort of an accidental shot. I was attempting to simply take a self-portrait of myself at Point of the Arches. I ended up only catching the top half of my face in the photo and I almost deleted it as a result. Ryan noticed though that the reflection I caught in my sunglasses was kind of cool, so he zoomed in that this is what he saw. I cropped the photo just to have my sunglass lens and the reflection. I think what we ended up with is a pretty cool and unique photo!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Texture Photos

Morning sunlight on the trees at Cape Flattery

Late afternoon light on ripples in the sand at Point of the Arches

Morning light on frosty ferns at North Fork in Olympic Nat. Park

Frost on a log at Second Beach
These are just a few of my favorite photos from our trip around the Olympic Peninsula. We had sun everyday and with the short winter days there were many good opportunities for morning sunlight and late afternoon photos as the sun got low on the horizon. There was also so much frost out there that it was begging to be photographed. I don't think I have ever seen so much frost in my life. It actually looked like there was snow along the sides of the road in many places, but it was definitely not snow. I guess it's just because this is a really moist area and it makes for massive amounts frost when it gets cold.

It's been back to the 40's and rainy here for the last couple of days, feels much more typical! It isn't raining at the moment, but I see dark clouds so I'm going to go outside and enjoy a few minutes of good weather!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Clear Skies on the Olympic Peninsula

Sunrise view of Mt. Rainier from the ferry
Point of the Arches
Destruction Island Lighthouse from Ruby Beach
Jennie, Natasha, and myself on Hurricane Ridge
A huge mussel at Salt Creek
Western Washington has had five consecutive days of crystal clear weather which is very unusual during the winter. We had the good fortune to be able to spend four of those days on the Olympic Peninsula. Ryan had the time off work and I was able to ignore my dissertation (and the associated guilt for not working on it). Before this trip, we had only been as far as the northern portion of Olympic National Park and Port Angeles. I had been imagining that our time on the Olympic Peninsula would be dark, rainy, and windy and that it would be more of a stay-in-the-car sort of road trip rather than hiking. Instead, we enjoyed crisp, clear weather and even though it was cold and windy, the light and scenery made every chilly minute worthwhile (it wasn't exactly Fairbanks-type cold, afterall).

The beginning of our trip started out beautifully with a sunrise over Mt. Rainier from the ferry. Once we got to the Olympic Peninsula, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge (which neither of us had ever been to before) with some friends.  As we got near the top of the ridge, we entered some clouds which made us worry that the view wouldn't be so great. Just as we turned the corner at the top to the parking lot though, we eerily exited the clouds and popped out into a bright sunny snowscape. We just stayed long enough to walk around and take some photos, but I can't wait to go back and go snowshoeing.

We spent the rest of the day tidepooling at Salt Creek. The size of mussels here on the Washington Coast is unreal. They make the species of mussels that grow in Kodiak look ridiculously tiny.

The next day we set off for Cape Flattery - the northwestern-most tip of the lower 48 states. Ryan has been wanting to visit Cape Flattery for quite a while. Besides being a cool place to go, he spent a month on a ship named the "Cape Flattery" in the Chuckchi Sea a couple of years ago. Cape Flattery - the place - was very impressive. I'll let Ryan write about it another time because I think he especially enjoyed it.

We stopped at several beaches along the Olympic Coast during the rest of our trip. Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches is particularly impressive and well-worth the 1.6 mile walk through mud holes to get there. I would love to go back when it's warmer and have time to just sit on the beach enjoying the view. It was a bit too chilly and windy this time to enjoy sitting on a frozen log for very long. Ruby Beach was another beautiful stop and we happened to be there at sunset when there were some uncharacteristic (for the last three days) clouds above the horizon, making for good lighting. The beach was literally swarming with photographers, all trying to set their tripods in the perfect spot to catch the sunset. I can't wait to go back to some of these places with warmer weather and more daylight, to have more time to just hang out and enjoy the view.