just your average oregon homestead: mildred kanipe and her peacocks

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Dateline: the tiny town of Oakland, Oregon, a few weeks ago.   I was pointing at a spot on the map, the ones explorers like best, you know, the ones where just an arrow leads off the grid and names something that lies beyond the edge.

“Well, I haven’t ever heard of that,” the shopkeep said, “but I definitely have heard of Mildred Kanipe park.”

In the odd hopeful spark in her eye, I knew there was something cool in them thar hills.

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And yes, in an old Oregon homestead-turned-county park that was saved by local citizens, it’s peacocks in the hills. And pastures. And barns…

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Peacocks!  There, perched on the woodshed.  And there, strutting down the slope from the cow pasture.  And there, a single Narcissus admiring himself in the pond.  And there in the oak trees, calling out in mournful tones.  And there, roosting on some old farm equipment, startling you when you step into the quiet light of the dim barn.

For nearby Flannery O’Connor fans celebrating her birthday, born on this day in 1925, a visit to the farm might be a chance to pay tribute to the writer’s famous peacocks, including the recently departed Manley Pointer, who did not disappoint.  RIP.

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Even for this jaded traveler, the 1,100-acre Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park is fascinating.  Just an hour from Eugene, it has a day use area next to the crumbling Century Farm house where Mildred Kanipe (1907-83) herself lived from birth to death, ranching and maintaining her livestock — and peacocks.

A half-dozen or so crumbling old barns and agricultural structures and a rural one-room school house listed on the National Register of Places are also on the property, among hiking and equestrian trails and a camping area now being developed. The school house, hidden in the trees above, dates from around 1910, when the area was known as the English Settlement.

DSC00678Yellowing wallpaper. Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park, Oakland, OR.

The farm house itself was built for the original Land Claim in the 1860s, and most recently made the 2015 list of Most Endangered Places in Oregon.  Fundraising for renovation is underway.

For now, we can go around the back of the house near the stream, and spy in to enjoy the uncanny little original two rooms with peeling striped, tree-topped wallpaper, and the crumbling kitchen addition with almost-bright yellow and aquamarine paint and a sink and cupboard set from around 1960, when they added running water and electricity.  There was never a need for an indoor toilet, though.

As I peered in the windows, a peacock settled down on the fence just beyond the window, perfectly framed.

Mildred Kanipe ran a dairy for just less than a decade in the 1940s.  Otherwise, she logged and farmed and ranched and tended the orchard, the remnants of which you can see.  Among 25 or so extant varieties of pomes, there are apples: a ‘Transparent’, a ‘Spitzenberg,’ a ‘Gravenstein,’ a ‘Black Ben’ from Arkansas, a couple of ‘Fall Pippins’, a ‘Graves Golden,’ redolent of coriander, a ‘King David,’ a ‘Stayman,’ an ‘Ortley,’ also known as a ‘White Detroit’, and a ‘Gloria Mundi.’

In this glorious world, Mildred Kanipe, the “Belle of Oakland,” did not let anything stop her.  She bought her first couple hundred acres of land when she was 18 and wore overalls.  When she’d find random livestock wandering alongside the road, she’d throw it in her truck and keep it.  On the internet, there’s an account of her laying irrigation pipe by the light of the moon, since it was shiny metal and therefore possible to see at night.  That way, she could fell lumber and herd cows during the day and not waste time.

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Ever feel like you’ve been bitchslapped from the grave by a pioneer woman who did more in a single day than you’ve done all month, who then stuck a peacock feather in her cap and called you macaroni? Get to work, girl!

Yeah, me neither.

on your local newsstand

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Heceta Beach, Florence, OR

Wow, it’s kind of a banner month for me in print. Look for articles I’ve written in Eugene Magazine (seed science, spring steelhead) and AAA’s Via (Florence, Oregon City, E. European restaurants), and one featuring yours truly in Oregon Quarterly (“Bread 101” by Bonnie Henderson).

Need a food/travel freelancer? Please drop me a line.  Trying to raise funds for moving expenses after school ends in June.  My next big adventure awaits!

beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ’em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ’em, slice ’em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”