Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adventure 45- Wildwood

It had been months since Natalie and I had been out on two wheels together, so strange since we rode constantly all spring and summer. With the change in the weather and with all the hunting, gathering and processing that we have been doing, cycling adventures have been on the back burner. My lack of lone cycling has probably contributed to this as well. Very little riding in my life as of late, and that will probably continue until February, when I start commuting to work again and battling the snow.
Inky Caps
This week we ventured out to Dove Creek to check out a new to us area called the Wildwood Interpretive Forest. Located on Piercy road approximately two kilometers from either the Inland Island Highway exit or the four way stop at Condensory road, this interpretive forest is 682 acres in size and contains second growth Douglas Fir, hemlock and spruce trees. I am a little disappointed that our adventure did not go as planned and we must return to this park better prepared for the weather.

We needed to visit Dove Creek to see friends Allen and Heather McWilliam at Tannadice Farm. As many of you know I had purchased a side of their wonderful pork several weeks ago, butchering it from a whole side in my kitchen. What a cool experience for me and just today my first attempt at creating homemade bacon turned out very well. I also had promised my sister that we would meet her out at the farm so she could pick up some beautiful meat. She has adopted the Paleo lifestyle and wants to avoid shopping for meat in the grocery store. So after confusing set of instructions from Google maps she finally arrived at the farm and loaded up with protein. Natalie and I had a nice visit with Heather and picked up some pepperoni for the road.
The "trail"
I took the long way out of Dove Creek, down along the Tsolum river on the hunt for eggs. I found a cooler with six dozen in it at Rusty Gate Meadows, $3.75 a dozen. Add that one to my list of spots to check when I need the chicken hens marvelous gift. I pulled three dozen and pushed twelve dollars in the money box. I feel that four dollars is a great price and it is easier to send the extra quarter that carry around so much change. We rolled back up Piercy road and parked along side the road the the trail head.
Nice grassy puddle
Natalie argued with me before we left about wearing warm clothes, especially gloves. She decided that, with no worries, her hands would be plenty warm and she needed to bring nothing. I disagreed and warned her. Alas she did not believe her dad and brought no gloves or mitts of any kind. Silly girl. She wore her merino gear so the rest of her was warm, but having cold hands can easily ruin an adventure.We began the ride through a mature forest with decent sized trees and pretty under story, and a little bridge over a creek. We happened upon a fork, with my choice being left, hers being right. Guess who won? Yep the girl. Unaware of the trail situation in the area I agreed and we rolled down hill along a road bed. I didn't realize that this was outside of the park and this is actually a service road for the gas pipeline that continues north and south along the B.C. Hydro transmission tower right away. The coast down the hill was pretty easy and un-interesting. Soon little Miss Natalie's hands were like icicles. The day was below freezing and we were not in the sun what so ever. Her folly was assuming it would be warm because the sun was shining. Being in the truck made it appear to be toasty. Nothing was further from the truth. We originally agreed to come back up the hill and take the other branch, but by the time we came back up the hill she was finished. Too cold and apparently tired(what else is new), so back to the truck.
Hemlock on a nurse stump
We loaded up and drove into Courtenay. Natalie wanted to stop at the Comox Valley Farmers Market and procure a bottle of love, namely some Island Soda Works product from our friend Mandolyn. I dropped her off and parked the truck. Natalie had a mini adventure shopping in the Native Sons Hall alone with the hundreds of others packed in. She did well and came out with two bottles of delicious beverage.
So thirsty, must have soda....
It was a brief adventure, as most have seemed to be lately, but we did get to stop at a new location, visit with friends and family and support local businesses. In my books that is a perfect morning regardless of anything else. Find Adventure.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Egg Hunt.

I have a new foraging item that has become an exciting, and sometimes frustrating, search. My whole life I have noticed these little "eggs for sale" signs out all around the Comox Valley, and practically everywhere else in my travels. Anywhere that there is rural areas, you will find people who are raising backyard chickens. From four hens in a chicken tractor to several dozen, complete with roosters, egg "hunting" is something that is accessible to everyone and there is probably one close by your own house.

The pure thrill in opening up a cooler at the end of someones driveway, seeing it chocker block full of cartons of eggs. Four dollars a dozen! You have to be kidding me. Wow. Look at those eggs. They are beautiful. Oh look over there, I see the hens. They look so happy. They are scratching for bugs. Nibbling grass. They are so healthy. The rooster looks so proud of his brood. Oh man, how much change do I have. 

These are the thoughts that go through my head when visiting one of these roadside egg "stores". The product is so wonderful. The whites are thick, and stand on their own, the yolks are bright yellow and plump.  The ability to purchase all this incredible protein for a very reasonable price from someone in your community is a marvelous introduction to buying food outside the grocery store. Many times you would be able to meet the people who are raising the hens, ask them questions about the birds, go look at the housing and yard( the chickens, not the property owners). If that isn't something the seller is interested in, maybe have a look for another vendor. Transparency is not usually a problem with small local growers. 

If you are someone who is interested in foraging, but are not sure where to start, searching for eggs in this way is considered foraging, in my opinion. In Paleolithic times man would search high and low for eggs of various game birds. Especially in the spring, when wild birds do their breeding and hatching the young. We are lucky that most of the year we can access eggs from chicken hens without having to climb trees to raid nests. Get in the car, or better yet, the bicycle and go explore. Load up with some twonies and loonies and some way to transport the delicate orbs. Once a good spot has been located, other products maybe available from the same grower. I know egg vendors who also sell cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and many also sell frozen cuts of grass fed meat that are available with a quick phone call. 

When I find some eggs, I often will buy two, three or sometimes four dozen. Eggs will stay fresh in the refrigerator for two weeks. If I am not going to use them all that quickly, I will pickle them. Pickled eggs will be fine in the fridge, packed in vinegar and water, for months. These make for a quick snack or lunch on the run. Mixed with some local vegetables, regardless of the season, fresh eggs will yield a delicious omelette or fritata. I usually add ham or bacon to mine for a little extra punch of protein and wonderful flavor. Of course you can make other great dishes with eggs, including some of the best sauces, like hollandaise, mayonaise and ceasar dressing. 

Once you have established an egg source, I recommend finding a couple more. Since most places will only have a few dozen at a time for sale, they sell out quickly. Many times I have emptied someones cooler, and wished there were more available. More sources builds food security in your life and helps to create community by supporting those who work so hard to make our sustenance. Regardless of what you think about the price of food, we get a bargain when shopping locally. Even if the eggs cost $6, we are still ahead. Ignore the price at the grocery store. Most high production facilities use subsidized corn as feed, and subsidized fuel usage, so the true cost isn't passed along to the consumer. Read this article of a young lady in Colorado and her experience poultry farming. In a way the costs are passed on, in increased tax burden and health care costs. We don't generally think about those costs, but they are there and  very real. 

For your health, the health of your community, and health of the earth sourcing more of your food locally is so crucial. By switching some of your spending slowly but surely, you will gain confidence and realize how easy and varied the products that are grown and available in your community. I thank each and everyone who makes the effort to grow delicious food for us.

Super funny video about pickling! Thanks Mado:)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Adventure 44-Nymph Fall Regional Park

Fish Ladder
Holy smokes did we ever get a quick burst of winter this weekend. We awoke to a dusting of snow on the ground around the house on Remembrance Day. Big shock to most to have snow this early in November, as we don't usually have any snow until December. Natalie was invited to participate in a choir performance in Courtenay for the Remembrance Day ceremony, so we bundled up in anticipation of standing out in the cold weather. And it was pretty chilly. Natalie did really well and sung in the choir, each experiencing the emotions of the day in our own ways. I was really feeling it, such pride with the knowledge that my grandfather and great grandfather served for Canada in the World Wars. The ceremony was really well done, and soon we were heading back to the vehicle. We discussed doing our adventure after-word that morning, but with already chilled bones, we opted out and re-scheduled for the next day.
Candid shot.
The choices for adventures are really starting to get tougher. With the ho-hum fall weather, and short days, motivation is waning. I am struggling to figure it out every weekend. Maybe I am over-thinking making the choice. We have so many parks around, and beaches that have yet to be experienced. We only have seven left to wind down this year long challenge, so the easier I make it, the better chance we won't skip any days and finish it up. Nymph Falls was on the original list, but it seemed almost too easy. Finally after all these weeks, it was time to explore this park off Forbidden Plateau road. First thing I realized upon leaving for our adventure was my camera battery was dead. I think Natalie was using it and left it turned on for too long, and I failed to check. Steve Harris's quote "Two is one, one is none" plays in my head, and having my iphone gave me redundancy and allowed me to still take pictures. If the quality isn't quite to par, that is the reason.
Nestled between Forbidden Plateau road and the Puntledge River, Nymph Falls envelopes pretty river vistas, large second growth Douglas fir and red cedar forest, hiking trails and mountain biking routes. We stuck to the hiking trails, that I would offer are wheelchair accessible. Wide and compacted gravel make for pushing a child buggy a snap. The park is for the most part a level landscape, with few moderate hills to get down to riverside. As the name suggests there is a pretty waterfall, actually more of a cascade than a true fall, a sculpted fish ladder to help salmon and trout to ascend the fall to the upriver spawning grounds. Trails criss-cross the park and connect with the B.C. Hydro lands to the west, and mountain bike rider built trails on Crown Land that continue under the Inland Island highway to the east. I have found some tricky stunts while out exploring these trails including a teeter totter that scared the heck out of me.
A certain bunny?

Natalie and I spent our time alternating between running races and looking for symbols in the rocks and stumps. We walked cross-country and along the main trails. We walked out on the rocks and looked for salmon in the pools. Many folks were out and about in the park, surprising considering the weather. While not really awful, it was pretty cold. The rain held off for the most part so our adventure was a dry one. Natalie tired of the cold pretty quickly so we cut the walk short and vacated back to the truck.
B-girl stance
I am looking forward to the time when Natalie is more sure on her bike and she can accompany me on these trails. This area is probably as close to beginner riding as we have in the Valley. While I don't usually frequent the typical places that the crowds do, Nymph Falls is a popular place for summer swimming too. Go Find Adventure in an area park, regardless of the season.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Home Butchery

Gothic pig turns into...

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, Instagram and my personal Facebook account probably came across an strange, gothic picture of a pig on a table. Laying on a sheet of clear plastic, eerily resembling something from the cable T.V. show Dexter. This was an attempt to de-sensitize people to what their food actually looks like before it goes on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic and pasted with labels advertising the company behind the meat, but little information regarding the actual animal, who's flesh is contained in this mass of garbage. Where was this animal raised? Who was the farmer? Where was is slaughtered? What is the food safety record of the abattoir? Was this animal caused undue stress and anxiety before it took it's  place on the food chain? Not a chance. Reason why? Because no one cares. Broad spectrum of consumers really don't care about the actual animal they are eating and would rather not think about it. Usually they the price point is the main factor in which package is peeled from the display(ever notice how the styrofoam and plastic wrap sticks together, making that unnatural sound).  Food with a face and a soul scares people. I am not sure why? This is a completely natural cycle that must take place for humans to thrive. Sure we can be kept alive by eating third world proteins like nuts, seeds, and grains along with fruit and veg. But to really fuel us to perform to our utmost potential we must consume protein and fat of an animal origin. It just is. If you don't agree then you probably shouldn't be reading an essay about home butchery. Thanks anyways.

Wow, not to be a jerk, I just feel this strongly about my belief in the consumption of animal fat, muscle and organs, along with my passion for sourcing local animal products that are raised in a happy environment. I know that through my research and travels, the ability to purchase these well raised, well fed and small batch animals are within my grasp. I like to take this one step further in the security of my food. I prefer to buy these animals whole and fresh from the farm. They have been through the first step in the processing plant, which is slaughtered and cleaned. Taking it from this point isn't for everyone, but it sure is a wonderful way to get a lot of meat, for a reasonable price and take some pride in how you feed your clan.
This, which turns into....

I started learning about butchering when I was about 18, working at the Kingfisher Inn. We often had to trim up whole pork loins, de-bone turkeys and fillet fish. My first exposure on a large scale was in the helping of butchering of two veal that our sous chef brought in for his own personal use. I offered to help in exchange for a few cuts and a pint of beer. It was somewhat intimidating, but he was easy going about the process and gave me instruction on de-boning, trimming and wrapping. Fond memories of the slow cooked ribs that were  our reward of a job well done at the end of our hard work. This is still part of my tradition of the harvest, always cooking some kind of delight for a feast upon the final wrap of paper. I have smoked backstrap, grilled tenderloin and slow roasted dry rubbed ribs for this meal.

Hunting for deer is something that I really enjoy. The ability, with your own hands, to harvest, then process right down to the last morsel of flesh feels ancestral. Not much goes goes to waste. Bones for broth or dog treats. Several organs go in the larder. The fat for rendering for candles or soap. I endeavor to keep the hide for leather, but have not found a use for that much yet. With the purchase of a meat grinder and sausage stuffer has made the process completely in house. I can grind my own burger and make delicious dinner sausages with little more than salt, pepper, garlic, and onions. I have total control of the cleanliness of my kitchen and the ingredients of my product. I can also easily make other preserved meats, like jerky and biltong, bacon and salami.
To this. The rewards of hard work.

Home butchery will probably not in the long run save much money. Professional butchers are, in my opinion, very inexpensive. That is not why I choose to do this. I do it mostly for the skill building aspect and the challenge, along with the pride in telling people "I did that". I am a sponge for information on subjects that appeal to me. Instead of spending money on a hobby that really has no end result, like golfing or golfing, I end up with a freezer and pantry full of food that can be served with no worries about e-coli, salmonella or lysteria.

If home butchery is something that interests you, just try it out. Start small. Purchase some chicken legs with the backs attached, and work at separating those. Learn how the bird goes together on a one that has already been broken down. Soon you will have the knowledge to move up to a whole, fresh bird. Take it down into pieces, toss some rub on it, grill it and have a feast. You will be in love. Please don't be afraid of ruining it. How can you? It is still meat, even if it has a knife mark, or some missing skin. It all ends up looking the same a few hours after eating it anyways. 

So far, in 2012, I have butchered up 10 chickens, 16 salmon, three deer and half a hog. I will continue to be making sausages and jerky on and off for several months. I am pretty confident that I have about six months supply of protein in my freezers. Having that much food on hand is empowering. If something unforeseen happens, like a job loss, accident or sever weather event, we will be fed in this house for quite sometime.

I am always open to helping a novice who is not sure where to start. Feel free to send me a message, or a comment, and I will try my best to help you out. As the old Nike ads used to say "Just do it"!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Adventure 43- Boyle Point Provincial Park

Trail head
Hornby Island was on the original list of awesome places to visit in the Comox Valley right from the start of this undertaking, way back in January. Very few trips for me outside of work have been taken, with the prohibitive costs of the ferries being the main reason that we spend very little time at this gem of the Salish Sea. Hornby is blessed with gorgeous, sandy beaches, bordered by some of the warmest swimming waters this side of Hawaii, old growth forests, funky homes, cycling paths and mountain biking routes. As a youngster my uncle owned a cabin on Hornby and we would visit it a couple times a year. That was before it was really discovered by the wealthy and made property values skyrocket. First choice for this adventure was to visit Hornby Island and hike the unique terrain of Helliwell Provincial Park, on the south east side of the island. But because of Mother Nature, and my own cautious nature, we didn't actually make it.
Where did you go? Good camo N!
I checked the weather forecast for the day shortly before leaving to catch the B.C. Ferries from Buckley Bay to Denman Island. The report called for winds gusting up to 60 kilometers per hour. That is pretty strong. Not a wind warning for the area, but still strong enough that the little "rubber duck" of a ship that makes the run across Lambert Channel from Denman to Hornby, may not be able to make the crossing and sailings could be cancelled. We paid for the full trip across just in case. The breeze was beginning to pick up as we waited to cross Baynes Sound(or as Natalie observed B(L)aynes sound), so I wasn't too hopeful. The biggest issue would be having to sleep over in the truck on Hornby, missing time at work and school, if the sailings were cancelled. Always wanting to be prepared, a sleeping bag and extra water were packed in the truck as a redundancy, just in case. As we waited for 30 minutes for the boat, Natalie challenged me to a few games of Memory on her ipod. She kicked my butt every time. Old age I tell ya!
New angle on Chrome Island
We crossed the Sound with no problem. Immediately upon driving up the hill on Denman, the wind was picking up rapidly. Trees were swaying, leaves getting tossed about. Gorgeous colors of fall painted the landscape of the small farms that dot the island. We even saw some Highland steers. Que the Corb Lund. They are massive animals with huge horns. As we drove I explained to Natalie how the wind can wreck havoc on the ferry system, and the risk of having to sleep over if for some reason the boat couldn't go. She agreed that it would be better to play it safe, although she did think that sleeping in the truck for the night would be better than going to school! Once the view unveiled Lambert Channel, the choice was simple. White caps were rolling from the strong south easter. Having been caught in more than my share of these winds, I know how brutal they can be. It was always in a much smaller craft than the B.C. Ferries vessel, including one memorable weekend aboard my friends sailboat.
Eagle Rock
So now what to do? From my geekness of reading the Backroad Mapbook, I knew a Provincial Park was located at the very southern end of Denman. Boyle Point is a 125 hectare site that meanders through a mature second growth forest to the look-out that gives a wonderful view of Chrome Island, and the Strait of Georgia. This day the view was impeded by the low cloud and we could hardly see Hornby for it being so socked in. The vantage point is special allowing a great open look at the Chrome Island lighthouse. Continually manned since it first began to signal mariners of the treacherous rocks and shallows surrounding the rock. It is a symbol of my childhood as we spend many days fishing the waters around this part of the the coast. The bright white buildings are a classic symbol of B.C.'s marine history.
Turkey Tails
Another short trail veers off to bring hikes to a view point to Eagle Rock. I also was lucky enough to spend a few visits to this "island" in my childhood. At low tide one can walk from Denman to Eagle Rock, and it's unusual rock formations. Many cormorant sea birds nest and habituate both Chrome and Eagle. I remember the water being very clear in this area and we could look over the gunnels and witness starfish, urchins, anemones and various crabs. I would assume that the scuba diving would be really spectacular around here.
Not sure, but it's pretty
Our walk was really nice today. The breeze was quite powerful, but we were in the trees for the majority of the time. The fall colors were amazing, big leaf maple leaves in the various hues littered the ground. I was searching for any kind of wild mushrooms to look at. No chantrelles around, of course. We heard eagles calling loudly to each other, saw a smashed up wasp nest and smelled the misty sea air. Although were just had a short visit to this park, I would love to re-visit it in the summer and explore down the precarious cliffs to get a better look at the inter-tidal creatures. Anytime we get to spend quality time outside, not doing chores or being distracted by electronics, is amazing. Find Adventure.
"Hair in my eyes...."