bread art.

My favorite kind of Daring Bakers Challenge is one where I am not really sure what hit me. I love learning about food that I didn’t even know existed, food that is exotic and exciting, food where I see a picture and think, I couldn’t make that, no way.

October was a bit like that. I didn’t think “no way”, but I did think, wow! That’s amazing!

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

I bake a lot of bread – it’s been months since I bought any from the store – but most of mine is the plain-jane sandwich variety. On special occasions, I used to make fancy bread, but it hadn’t occurred to me in a while. If I make something fancy, it’s usually dessert these days.

But the povitica – man, oh man, did the photos Jenni posted get me psyched. Her bread was beautiful, full of contrasting dark and light swirls. It was like cinnamon bread gone crazy – and I was pretty sure it would taste even better than cinnamon bread, too. She listed several possibly fillings, but I stuck with the most basic, a ground walnut affair with sugar and spices.

So, about those ground walnuts. First of all, they were supposed to be English walnuts. I wasn’t sure what kind of walnuts we usually eat, but it turned out that it’s them, so that was a relief. My next project was to grind them. This is going to be a pain in the butt, I thought; we don’t have a food processor. I looked doubtfully at my housemate’s coffee grinder. I was pretty sure there was a good reason NOT to put the walnuts inside, like that they were too oily and would turn to paste, but it was so tempting…. I poured half a cup in and started grinding.

Guess what. Walnuts are too oily and turn to paste in a coffee grinder. Great!

After painstakingly scraping the quasi-walnut-butter out of the grinder and into a bowl and then washing out the grinder and wiping it clean, I had to move on to Plan B, which was unfortunately chopping the other cup and a half of walnuts with a big kitchen knife. My knife skills are okay, but it took forever. To achieve a texture like ground walnuts, you have to get the pieces really, really, really small. Like powder, basically. So that was fun.

Luckily, everything else went smoothly. I made the filling by adding milk, butter, sugar, vanilla, spices, and an egg to the walnuts, and let it sit while I rolled out the sweet dough very, very thinly. Bread dough is stretchable and the rolling was a lot easier than when I was trying to make baklava! (Also, it probably helped that I only had to make one piece of dough…) It was challenge to get the dough thin enough to see through without ripping it, but by rolling the dough, picking it up to stretch it, and repeating, it actually didn’t take too long before my counter was covered in a huge, translucent sheet of bread dough.

The next part scared me a little. I spread the filling onto the dough, trying not to rip it as I went, and hoped that it wouldn’t be too heavy for the bread dough. I spread and spread, and then tried to roll the dough up, jelly-roll style. There were a few places where the dough was so thin that the filling kind of seeped through and got stuck to the counter, making it harder to roll, and I was really nervous. But nothing ripped and at the end I had a long roll of dough. I actually stretched it to make it longer, and then coiled it up in the pan according to Jenni’s instructions.

After a very brief rise, I brushed the top with a little bit of pumpkin butter dissolved in water – I wanted to give it an orange glow – and put it in the oven.

When it came out, it definitely had a pumkiny tinge to it. Not orange, exactly, but pretty. I was happy with how it turned out, and amazed that the dough had held up so well; I had expected some of the filling to leak out into the sides of the bread pan, but there was no sticky stuff to be found, just a nice-looking loaf of bread that hinted at a surprise inside.

And what a surprise it was. When I sliced the loaf open (it was difficult to wait until it had cooled!) the swirls were there in stunning fashion. I was glad that I had spent so much time chopping those darn nuts, because the filling really had become a paste and showed up in clean, crisp lines against the rolls of the dough.

What about the taste? Even if the bread hadn’t been good, I would have loved it. But it was good. The walnut filling was delicious, which was good since it made up such a high percentage of the bread’s volume! It had a hint of spices, but wasn’t overly cinnamon-flavored, which I thought was really nice; almost all of the breakfast and dessert breads we make seem to be cinnamon-heavy. This was more refined and incredibly tasty. And while it was sweet, sugar wasn’t the dominant flavor, either.

All in all, I was super impressed with povitica. It made me excited about making fancy bread again, and I would really like to try another kind of filling – poppy seed perhaps? This bread is sure to make a reappearance around the holidays. Thanks Jenni for a great challenge, one of my favorites by far!

As always, check out the other beautiful creations over at the Daring Kitchen website.

 

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a crazy family.

On Sunday night my housemate Heather and the women who lives in our backyard, Elizabeth, wanted to carve pumkins.

So we did.

First, a little bit about our housing arrangement, which is unusual. Our house is on the edge of the city, definitely still in the neighborhoods but not downtown; as a result our lot has more of a yard than I’d expect. It’s full of berries and fruit trees, and also a pair of yurts where Erik and Elizabeth live. Erik is our landlord’s son and Elizabeth is his girlfriend. They are younger than me but older in a lot of ways too; they work in gardens and on wood and with their hands, don’t have many amenities, and survive almost entirely on cash. This summer they got a truck and were so excited. They don’t pay rent.

The situation is mostly wonderful because Erik and Elizabeth are really nice. Sometimes, it’s strange to have people living in your backyard regardless of how nice they are, though. This weekend Elizabeth was talking about how she wants to get ducks because duck eggs are so good, and I just thought of how I didn’t really want ducks wandering around our yard. I didn’t want to be stepping in duck poo all the time, and I just didn’t want to deal with them. Then I felt bad. That’s the thing about Erik and Elizabeth: whenever they ask you about something, you feel like you have to say yes even if you don’t want to because the idea is so charming and sustainable. You feel like a grouch saying no.

That didn’t come up in our pumpkin-carving evening, though. Because who doesn’t want to carve pumpkins? Elizabeth had dragged Erik to the pumpkin patch and they had each picked out a nice carving pumpkin. Heather, on the other hand, grabbed two smallish pie pumpkins from the supermarket.We figured we could use the pumpkins for pie after we looked at them for a few days. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but we’re going to try.

My other housemate, Laura, wanted to cook up the pumpkin seeds, so Heather and I each took a pumpkin and a few of Erik’s carving tools and the four of us set to work on the floor. It was immediately clear that everyone else was way, way more artistic for me. I briefly thought about doing a jack-o-lantern that wasn’t a face – maybe a tree, or a cat, or a snowflake – but then I thought, who am I kidding? I can’t draw that stuff. Much less carve it. So that was that, I was making a face.

Considering the amount of time I spent on my pumpkin, which was roughly the same amount of time everyone else took, the result was kind of lame. I mean, look at Elizabeth’s pumpkin:

Elizabeth thought that her pumpkin ended up looking like a monkey wearing a fez. And Erik’s pumpkin – the one on the right in the top photo – was absolutely incredible. He didn’t carve through at any point, but literally whittled a face out of the pumpkin flesh. Entertainingly, it ended up looking like a monkey too, and we wondered why they liked monkeys so much.

Despite being completely outclasses in the artsy-fartsy department, it was a lot of fun to sit around the floor joking and eating Laura’s delicious pumpkin seeds. We may have been more focused on our designs than we were when we were kids, but we had no less fun. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in years, but I think I am going to have to make a habit of it again. Especially with friends, it’s a nice way to do something fall-like!

Although hopefully my jack-o-lanterns will get more ornate if I keep practicing…. although this fellow does have a bit of his own charm.

Fried noodles.

This dinner really could be anything. It’s clearly noodles, carrots, and broccoli, but what’s so great about that? It’s impossible to tell, looking at the picture, what kind of a dish this is. What’s it spiced with? Is it just some spaghetti?

Well, my friends, the answer is no. I’m here to tell you that these are fried noodles. It’s a recipe I made up and damn, it is good. Also, there’s a piece of broccoli about to fall out of that bowl. Yeah, I know.

It turns out that there are two ways to approach cooking for one person. There’s the strategy where you make a normal-sized amount of food and then eat it for several meals. Then, there’s the way where you make just enough dinner for one person; needless to say, the one-person dinners usually aren’t too fancy.

I’ve used both strategies, but recently I’ve been even busier than usual and just too disorganized to make a big batch of anything, so I’ve had a lot of spaghetti nights. At some point, you get sick of spaghetti, and I’ve come to learn that it’s really important to have some good base ingredients in the refrigerator. Then, you can grab a vegetable from the store on your way home and have several potential directions for a quick and easy dinner. Tomato sauce? Asian food? Breakfast for dinner? A great sandwich? All of a sudden, you have options for a one-person dinner that doesn’t suck.

A couple of nights ago I decided to end my most recent spaghetti stream and make a different kind of noodles – rice vermicelli. Instead of boiling them, I thought I’d stir-fry them right in the pan with my veggies; but how to flavor everything? I looked on the shelf in the refrigerator and one ingredient jumped out at me. It was some sesame paste which I had bought for a recipe involving homemade ramen noodles. I had not liked the noodles, it turned out, and as a result banished the sesame paste. But as I thought about things more, I was pretty sure that the ramen noodles were what I didn’t like (they were very alkaline). So out came the sesame paste.

It’s important to note: this isn’t tahini we’re talking about. I have that too, and it’s great, but this is completely different. It’s a dark brown paste you can buy at Asian food stores. Don’t try making this recipe with tahini. It, well, it will suck… I don’t actually know that, but I’m pretty sure.

So once I took out the sesame paste, the first thing that happened was that I spilled it all over everything. The paste had separated into a thick, solid lower layer and a lot of oil on top. As I tried to scoop out the paste, my spoon slipped and flung sesame oil everywhere. My nice Salomon jacket now smells like sesame. Eh, well, you win some, you lose some.

The next thing that happened was that I put some of the paste in a pan with my sizzling vegetables. I wanted the sesame paste to sort of coat the veggies. But it was too thick. I tried to stir it in, thinking that the heat would re-liquify it after a long time in the refrigerator, but nothing happened. I still had chunks of sesame paste in my veggies. I poured in some shaoxing wine and some soy sauce, in the hopes that the steam from the boiling sauces would soften the paste and that everything would come together into a uniform sauce. It kind of worked. It took a lot of stirring, but I finally felt like the sesame was coating my veggies. Mission accomplished.

Finally, I threw in the rice noodles, which had been soaking in cold water. They didn’t cook for long, and when the whole mess was done, they were mostly soft with just a few crispy strands from the bottom of the frying pan.

And the mess? It was delicious. Veggies, sesame, a pickled hot pepper, fried noodles. It might not be authentic to any region of the world, but it’s authentic to my kitchen. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters – hot, good food. Dinner. Home. Hooray.

Fried Sesame Noodles With Carrots and Brocolli

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 clove garlic

1 pickled hot red pepper (or another kind of chile pepper!)

1 large carrot, chopped small

1 small head of broccoli, chopped small

2 tablespoons sesame paste

1 tablespoon shaoxing wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 handful rice vermicelli noodles, soaked in cold water for half an hour

In a stainless-steel frying pan or a wok if you’re feeling ambitious, heat the oils together over medium-high heat. Chop the garlic and the pickled pepper into a very fine mince, and toss them in the pan; include the seeds of the pepper. Cook for just a minute to soften before adding the carrot and the pieces of the broccoli stem (save the florets for later). Stir everything for a few minutes until the hard vegetables begin to soften up. Then add the broccoli florets and watch as they turn bright green. Stir in the sesame paste, trying to break it up; pour the wine and soy sauce into the pan and use the steam to help stir in the sesame paste. Once everything is uniform and there are no more big clumps of sesame paste, drain the noodles and add them to the pan. Cook three to four minutes or longer, depending on how crispy you want your fried noodles.

big country.

I’ve been working a lot of overtime lately, and after a certain point I decided that enough was enough and I was taking a vacation. So after two long field days last week I took off for southeastern Oregon to meet up with my buddy Andrew, companion of many hiking trips including this one and this one. We had both been busy and didn’t have a concrete plan, but we knew we were going up on Steens Mountain. So he drove from Salt Lake City, where he is grad school, and I drove from Eugene, and we met up in the tiny town of Frenchglen (population estimates run from a dozen to a couple hundred) on Thursday night. Due to the town’s size, it wasn’t hard to find each other.

It was 4 p.m. when we started driving up the long gravel road into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The road ran twenty or so miles to the top of Steens – a 9700 foot peak – and we planned to park near the top, hike a mile or so, and find an easy camping place for the first night since it gets dark early these days. We rattled along the road until…. whoops. It was gated and locked. Even though we had checked to see if the road was open, it wasn’t. Luckily there was a BLM campground near the gate so we sacked up and paid to pitch our tents and park our cars. In a way, we were relieved that we’d be able to postpone our final packing until the next morning. We ate some pasta for dinner and went to bed.

The next morning, we woke to find frost on our cars. Brrr! After a quick breakfast we shouldered our packs and began hiking up the road. It was a little discouraging to walk on the road, so as soon as we thought we could see one of the mountain’s signature canyons, we cut across the gently sloping plain to peer over the edge.

Even this first canyon took our breath away and we thought, now this is what we came for. Up until our first look over the edge, the trip had been off to an inauspicious start. As you can see in the picture, the desert just gradually climbs up to the top of the mountain over miles and miles, so as we drove up and later walked up the road, the terrain seemed pretty unimpressive. We began to wonder why we had each driven so far. Also, the road had been closed. And also, I hadn’t anticipated snow on the ground so was wearing trail running shoes, which quickly became cold and wet after traversing the periodic snowfields we encountered. Just a few hours into the hike, I was already looking forward to dry wool socks and a warm sleeping bag, and hadn’t even seen any great views.

But when we saw the first canyon, we realized that this mountain might be pretty awe-inspiring after all.

One interesting thing about the trip was that I had been pretty much unable to find a map of the area. As far as I could tell, nowhere in Oregon sold paper copies of the USGS quad; I could download it online, but didn’t have a way to print it at any useful scale. So we relied on a few computer printouts and generally didn’t really know where we were going. Our goal for day one was to make it to Wildhorse Lake, which lay at one end of the north-south ridge, and our strategy was to more or less wander along canyon rims wherever we wanted to.

It was a nice strategy.

While the slope was incredibly gradual from the west side, the east side of the mountain dropped off thousands of feet down to the desert below, and the rim was stunning.

Eventually we made it to the trailhead for Wildhorse Lake (incidentally, the only real trail I saw the whole time), and dropped our packs while we climbed to the mountain’s actual summit. It was covered in radio towers, unfortunately, but I managed to get some pictures from an angle that hides them. It was a beautiful day to be on top of one of Oregon’s tallest peaks.

From the summit we scrambled out the rocky ridge to another prominence which I think might be called Steenshead, but given the lack of maps, I’m not actually sure. In any case, it allowed us to feel even more like we were perched above the desert below. In some ways, it was nicer than the actual summit.

From Steenshead (I’m just going to keep calling it that) we also had a nice view of Wildhorse Lake, where we would be camping that night.

So we headed back across the summit to our packs and started down the trail. For a bit, it crossed the grass, but then dropped over the edge into a huge bowl. There was a problem: where the trail dropped down, there was a huge snowfield. I guess I don’t mean huge, but I mean big enough, steep enough, and cornice-y enough that we didn’t want to cross it. So we skirted the top edge of the bowl and ended up scrambling down a scree field to rejoin the trail far below as it switched back and forth across the steep slope. Even there, almost every other corner was under snow, so we found ourselves frequently hopping off of it and making our own routes. Bad etiquette on fragile alpine trails, I know, but it was necessary.

We found ourselves descending farther and farther – the lake had looked far below us, but for some reason we hadn’t realized exactly how much elevation we were going to lose in search of the perfect camping spot. Luckily, when we arrived at the lake, it was everything we could have hoped for: gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, which was just beginning to fall behind the ridgeline.

It was too early to consider dinner and bedtime, so we took a little walk across the basin to another, smaller lake – really a pond – perched even more precariously against the mountainside. The colors of everything honestly took my breath away, and I hoped that my camera would be able to capture their beauty.

Thanks Andrew for taking my picture.

The afternoon faded but we lingered at the tiny lake. It was too perfect.

We wandered over to the cliff overlooking a meandering stream far below, and Andrew trundled a couple of rocks to see how far they’d fall and how big they’d crash. There was an amazing pyramid-shaped rock formation across the valley. We oohed and ahed and then headed back to the big lake, which was looking more and more spectacular all the time.

We set up our tent on the edge of the lake – or tried to. The ground was hard and ledgey and we could barely pound the tent stakes into the ground. We ended up tying the rain fly to a couple of bushes and hoped that with us inside, it wouldn’t budge. After a quick dinner – nothing spectacular – we crawled into our sleeping bags. It was already dark and cold at 7:30 p.m., and while we weren’t ready for sleep, we were ready for warmth! We stayed up talking for a few hours and then tried to shut our eyes.

I wasn’t entirely successful, in no small part because our camping spot, perched in the basin as it was, turned out to be incredibly windy. I worried all night that the fly would blow off the tent because we simply hadn’t been able to stake it down. At a few points, the wind was blowing so hard that the side of the tent was literally blowing into me – I felt like I was the only thing stopping it from rolling into the lake. In the early morning, though, the wind quieted down and I finally fell asleep. I woke up at 8:30 the next morning to find Andrew staring at me… whoops, I never sleep that late!

We had our work cut out for us that morning. We had to get out of the basin and the only way to go was up – the canyon wound down down down, but not in any direction that would lead us back to our cars. We decided not to take the trail we had come in on; it was snowy and kind of useless, and if we were going to spend time off-trail, we thought that we might as well actually choose a new route. After discussing a few options we set off up the steep walls of the basin following a natural ramp through the cliffs. We climbed up boulderfields and with every step got a better view of the lakes below us.

We had assumed that this steep, off-trail ascent would take us a long time and a lot of sweat, and were surprised when only an hour or so later we were walking along the top of the basin again, looking down towards the lake on one side and off into another canyon on the other. We didn’t have much of a plan for this day, other than to make it over to the Kiger Gorge on the north end of the ridge to camp. So we once again wandered across the snowfields and along canyon rims, meandering our way northward. We stopped for a very cold lunch and took a nap in the sun. Honestly, we had lost a lot of our motivation. When we finally reached Kiger Gorge, we were a little overwhelmed. It was BIG.

Not only was it big, but the head of the canyon was impossible to descend. I had initially had the idea of camping down in the gorge itself, but we knew we wanted to be back at the cars by mid-morning and climbing out of the gorge the next morning and then hiking the few miles back to the gate seemed like too much work for our lazy selves. We took a long time trying to decide what to do and eventually just put off the decision. We dropped our packs and scrambled down some ledges to begin walking along the canyon’s east rim.

It was beautiful, but neither of us were very motivated for an out-and-back hike along the ridge. We ended up sitting on some rocks complaining about how far away the next high point appeared. But it was only 2:30…. what were we going to do?

Although we had initially ruled out the possibility of going down into the gorge with our packs, from our current spot the descent didn’t look so bad. And the ascent on the other side looked doable too. So…. impulsively, without any water or food, we decided to cross the canyon and come out on the other side. How long could it possibly take?

The descent, which hadn’t looked so bad, was actually quite long and very steep. Luckily I earned my stripes as a hiker in Colorado, so I was used to sliding down piles of scree. There were a few close calls and more than one moment where I stopped to survey the next section of the hill and wondered whether I was going to make it on my feet or not, but after a half hour or so and some burning quads, we made it to the more gently sloping canyon floor. We were surrounded by sagebrush and boulders; it smelled divine. We strolled along game paths through the shrubs straight across the canyon, through the willows and aspens surrounding the steam at its bottom, and began up the other side.

Just like earlier that morning, I felt like a wuss. A party-pooper. A lame-o. Eugene sits at 426 feet above sea level; Salt Lake City is ten times as high. Andrew was much better equipped to handle the elevation here and as I tried to climb up hill I huffed and puffed. I was short of breath, I was struggling to keep my balance and my composure. But somehow, the walls of the canyon weren’t as high as they seemed. Soon we were halfway to the top. Then we were closer. Near the rim of the gorge, we encountered some cliff bands. We weren’t sure if they would “go”, but it seemed like a better shot than climbing up the nearby snowfield, so we picked our way through the rocks, Andrew ahead and me lagging behind.

Finally, he stood above me and looked off into the distance.

“There’s another cliff,” he shouted down. “It’s really steep. I think we’re stuck.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” I shouted up. When I made it to where he was standing, sure enough we were back on the rim, surrounded by tall grasses and far-reaching views. No more cliffs. We sat down on a rock, exhausted. I wanted water and Andrew wanted dinner.

The walk back to our packs was easy – just padding through the high desert, up gradual hills and skirting the rim’s contours – but it was also much longer than we expected. By the time we got to our packs it was definitely an hour you could call dinner. We strapped our bags on and carefully downclimbed towards the ridge we had started off on a few hours earlier. After a few minutes we reached a flat area perched between a cliff and a more gentle, although still-imposing, dropoff and set up camp.

It was once again tough to pound in our tent stakes, but we used rocks to weigh things down and tied the fly to boulders. Then we cooked up what we had christened “pesto tuna surprise”, a dinner of angel hair pasta, dried pesto powder, and tuna. After a few days of hiking, it was actually amazing, even though pesto powder is pretty gross compared to real pesto. I think PTS is going to be a new sensation in the backpacking world.

Then it was off to our sleeping bags, a few swigs of whiskey from Andrew’s flask, and another night of worrying that the strong winds might blow us away – this time not into a lake but over a cliff. I also thought I heard it raining and began worrying about climbing up the ledges back to the canyon rim the next morning. What can I say, I’m a worrier. I finally got to sleep but it wasn’t particularly restful.

The next morning was even colder and windier, so we skipped breakfast and climbed back up to the plateau. To get back to our cars, we had to rejoin the road and follow it for a few miles. We made a few guesses about where it would bend and luckily turned out to be right. Cutting across the high desert was much nicer than following the gravel, and we had our last wonderful views of the canyons.

And, about a mile from the cars, we finally saw some of the wildlife we’d been hoping for – a herd of antelope!

I wish I had a bigger zoom lens, but c’est la vie. I swear there are antelope in that picture.

After finally eating breakfast, putting on dry clothes, and saying some sad goodbyes – it’s always great to rediscover a good friend and always difficult to when you part ways again – we rattled off back down the gravel road, and then in Frenchglen turned our separate ways and headed back to our homes. As I drove towards Burns, the nearest city, it began raining angrily. I was glad we were off the mountain, and wondered why the weather had to punish me even more; I was already feeling that post-trip deflation that comes when something wonderful is receding in your rearview mirror.

It was a great four days and I made it back to Eugene refreshed mentally, if perhaps not physically. Work seemed new again and not so monotonous; I was reinvigorated rather than dreading my job.

Despite a lack of maps, Steens is an amazing place to check out. It’s not on anyone’s way to anywhere, but it’s worth the detour if you ever find yourself within a few hundred miles. Discovering remote, undiscovered places is an incredible joy and I think it was good for my soul. What a relief.

Northwest autumn.

Look at this sky. This is how moody the Northwest is in the fall.

On Wednesday I left after my Norwegian class and began the drive up to Washington. As is the case more and more often now, I was traveling solo, leaving the postdocs on campus with their spreadsheets and paper revisions. As I drove north I crossed through bands of drizzle and lashing rain; every time I passed through a small patch of sunshine I would hope that it might be sunny at our field site, and then immediately acknowledge to myself that this was a ridiculous thing to hope for. No way would it be nice, and I might as well not set myself up for disappointment.

When I arrived at Tenalquot Prairie, though, it was actually sunny. I was confused. This was impossible. I quickly set my tent up – yes, I was here for two days – and got to work. First I took the NDVI in all the plots. That’s the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or basically a fancy way of shooting light down at the ground and assessing the “greenness” based on how much light comes back at you. It’s most frequently used in remote sensing from a space platform, but also in agriculture and, I’m discovering, ecology. I held the instrument at hip height and let it do its thing. At least I’d have the fancy equipment all packed up and dry in the car if it started raining, I thought.

And after I had moved on to weeding the no-competition zones of our plots for about twenty minutes, by golly if the rain didn’t appear. I pulled on my rainpants, zipped up my raincoat, and steeled myself for a completely miserable two days.

It was cold. It was wet. My gloves, which I needed to get a better grip on the plants I was yanking out of the ground, had the effect of just turning my fingers numb. I couldn’t work as fast in the rain, either – the plants were more slippery and I also was thinking about how I moved so that I wouldn’t end up with a river of water running down my back or something like that.

I worked until it was too dark to see the plants. I had originally planned to keep working after dark with a headlamp, but by this point there was no way I was going to keep working in the rain. I fired up my electric kettle – yes, our plots have electricity in them – and, I’m ashamed to say, crawled in the car. I turned the heat on and ate my cup noodles (I felt like a college student, and I promise I never eat that crap when I’m at home with a kitchen) and stared out at the rain.

At some point I had to make the dash to my tent with my sleeping bag, and I was not psyched to venture out into the rain. But the car was packed full and tiny to boot, and I had a little too much dignity to sleep in the back. So dash I did. With my rain fly on my tent stayed pretty dry, but even when you aren’t actually wet knowing that the rain is right outside never makes for a fun night of camping. I might have felt a little sorry for myself.

I fully expected to rain for the whole of my second day, too, but when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t hear any raindrops. I peeked out the tent and saw a beautiful sight.

The rain had stopped and just a few cotton candy clouds dotted the sky. Literally, I could not have been more happy.

The good weather enabled me to have a solid second day of work and I got more done than I had expected. I could almost forget how grumpy I had been the night before! As I learned when I got home, this is what differentiates fall from winter in Oregon. When it rains, it’s just as cold as it is in the winter, and just as miserable; but in the fall, you still get a few sunny days, some brief respite from the soggy chill.

I guess I’d better enjoy them while they last.