Sunday, October 16, 2016

Port Gamble, Pecans And Possibilities

Is it too early to exclaim, "Oh my!  It's fruitcake weather!" or is it a moot question, now, as I have done just that? 

One great disappointment I have felt recently is the fact that Port Gamble's Country Christmas celebration will no longer showcase Washington's only fruitcake contest.  And when I say fruitcake contest, I do not mean fruitcake-throwing contest like the ones you will find at some cretinous activities during the holidays. They eliminated the contest from the celebration the year I had decided to enter my Texas Orange Slice Cake, with accompanying story of its origin.  That was part of the judging-the story behind the cake.  Part of the appeal to me, of course, is the misguided bad reputation that fruitcake has and it was my intention to help facilitate the reversal of that stigma, in whatever small venue with which I was presented.  In this day and age, winning a fruitcake contest would be neither glamorous nor brag-worthy.  Precisely the reason I wanted to enter and win!

Port Gamble, WA is an historic mill town situated on the shores of Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula.  It's a nostalgic little acreage showcasing turn-of-the-century buildings filled with shops and New England style houses on maple and elm tree-lined streets.  They host several attractive events throughout the year, such as a paranormal conference, dinner theater performances,  and the aforementioned Country Christmas sans fruitcake contest.  (Now they have only one only special thing that no one else in Washington has and that is fireworks at Christmas.) If I lived closer, I would probably go to the theater to see "Clue The Musical."

Here's how I was planning to enjoy an old-timey, country feel, seaside ambient Christmas revelry fruitcake contest:

Earlier in the year my family had a reunion in the village of Ruidoso, NM in the Lincoln National Forest Sierra Blanca Mountain Range.  I couldn't breathe very well at 7,000 feet, being used to living at sea level for so long.  I'm just putting that out there for no special reason or tie-in to the story.  I had mentioned to my mother a while before that I wished I had some New Mexico pecans to put in my cake that I didn't know at the time I was not going to even make.

New Mexico is famous for her pecans, arguably the best pecans nation-wide!

I was going to try to buy some when I was in NM for the reunion, but my mother's neighbor had a load of windfall pecans in her back yard that she would gladly give to me.  I was driving with my brother and sister-in-law, Katy and Desmond and all of our "stuffs" in one vehicle.  Were you counting?  That's five people.  With many stuffs.  And an extra load of pecans...big bags of pecans. To me, they were worth it.

On the border between New Mexico and Colorado, in a town called Cortez, is Cortez Flour mill, where they mill Bluebird flour, reportedly the only flour you should use when making Navajo Fry Bread, if you care at all about being authentic.  I don't know about being authentic, but I do know that I have won several bread baking prizes at the fair when using that flour.  Of course, I needed that for my fruitcake as well.

And then we spent some time in Utah, where I continued filling my fruitcake coffers, this time with Montmorency dried cherries from Woodyatt Cherry Orchards in Willard. Katy and I both have won fair prizes with out pies made from these cherries. 

Living in Washington, I found some local representative ingredients from Simply The Best Northwest Dried Foods. Using fruits grown in the Omak region of Washington and a wood-fueled dehydrator, without adding anything else, they had just the ticket to round out my ingredient list.  (The orange slice candy could actually come from anywhere.  I know the cake is named for this ingredient, but come's just jellied sugar!) Something from five states I've lived in, if you include the name of the cake. 

How could my fruitcake not take the prize at Port Gamble?!  I mean...well, if there was going to be a fruitcake baking story-telling contest in Port Gamble, WA., I definitely had a chance!

We got back from the reunion trip in April of that year and I still had several months ahead of believing in fruitcake. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Two Good Things and Too Bad

    Good Thing #1. It's not really a Christmas post already, although if it were, it wouldn't be the first I've seen this season.  This is a little story that wraps itself around me like a homemade afghan on a chilly fall evening.  Last year we returned to Don Tapio's Christmas Valley Tree Farm to cut our own tree again.  Katy really, really likes real trees for Christmas and I understand her.  I used to feel the same way. 
      As usual, we spent a few minutes catching up with our tree farmer, listening to news about his 90+ year-old mother, and how life was treating them after a series of very misfortunate events. (I might share some more about that at a more appropriate time.  It's not such a warm story.) 
     Then we headed out to find that little made-just-for-us Christmas tree we knew would be waiting for us.  I had visions of sweet symmetry, with enough space between the branches to show off some red and golden glass ornaments.  I don't know what Katy was looking for.  We know we have our own ideas and we know that however different they may seem, we always agree on  just the right tree when we see it.  Usually, it takes a bit of discussion and circling the tree and pulling up a bottom branch or two and asking each other, "Whadd'ya think?"
     We poked around, traipsed around, chased Desmond around and found a few "almosts," trees that other years would have made the grade, but something just kept spurring us on, in a subtle, nudging way. 
     And then...there it was like a beacon one second and then just a tree the next second, but never only just a tree for very long.  The three of us stopped mutely at the same moment and decided this was our tree.  It had drawn us in.  There was a whole forest left that we hadn't even seen yet, but why would you keep running after the ball if you've already caught it?  We didn't even need to discuss it. We just really liked it.
   Katy cut it down, with oh-so-much help from Desmond and direction from me, and we started back up the path with it.  Don looked up and rather than wait for us to come to the bailing machine as in years past, he hurried down the gravel to meet us.  He was exuberant and told us we had artistic hearts for choosing that tree...the kind of artistic hearts that reached out, artistically, to other things about life, as well.
     He had only a handful of that particular tree on his farm, and most people don't choose it, but to him, it's the prettiest tree he grows!  (And just so you know, I've already told this story to someone who said, "I'll bet he says that to everyone," so no need to go there.  I just know it ain't so.  There was no need to flatter us and I might have thought he was just saying stuff to make us feel good, if it weren't for the fact that I knew that tree was all he said it was.)
     It was a corkbark fir, with silver-white blue and green needles that picked up and played with the lights we put on it later.  You can tell from the picture that it is indeed a lovely tree, but I know you can't really see what made it all that special, unless you can see into our four hearts just by looking at the pictures.

Don Tapio, Christmas Tree Farmer

Good Thing #2.  Katy doesn't live with me any longer, (that's not necessarily the good part) and she and Desmond live with Jesse who already has two cats. (That they are a family--married this summer--now is good for them all.)  Desmond likes cats, whether they always like him or not.  They've been together in that house with those two cats now for less than a year, and just the other day Katy told me this story:
     "I just adopted a cat!!!  And I looooooove my new baby!!  We went to the Utah State Fair Park to the 'no-kill' Utah adoption thing.  Went straight to him and knew immediately he was mine.  They said I was the first person this whole time to really notice him.  Desmond has told him he is his best friend.  He never said that to the other cats!  Desmond is so happy about it...Gosh I love him.  He was so mellow and scared at the fair that no one was really paying attention to him.  But he was just sitting, taking everything in being so incredibly calm.  He's special.  The lady there started almost getting choked up that someone really saw him."
     I told her, "kind of like our Christmas tree."
     And she said, "exactly.  You gotta just be led."

 Hmmm, I wonder...what would you just have to call a handle-bar mustachioed cat with gem-green eyes?

Bonjour! Rencontrer Hercule Peridot:

Enfin, TOO BAD they don't make this candy bar anymore.  If they did, I would call it good thing #3.