Friday, October 2, 2009

Oregon Trail Part VI: Sweet Home

The final day of our trek up the coast, we wake up in another extremely cute little motel in Klamath, CA, the Ravenwood. We departed from this location after being advised by some locals to stop for lunch in Grant's Pass, OR. The advice came with a warning that in Oregon they love their one way streets, trying to be more European, probably. There was a just a hint of nose turning toward those uppety Oregoneans by the locals here in Northern NorCal. I refrained from asking if they had ever been to San Francisco.

The 199 forked off from the 101 shortly after Klamath, to cut across country and bring us back around to the 5. I don't know if it was just the fresh perspective of a new day, but it seemed to me that the Redwoods along the 199 were even more beautiful than those along the 101.

Within an hour of driving, we crossed the state line in a thoroughly underpopulated patch of forest halfway between the 5 and the 101. Despite there being no obvious change in the landscape, the road signs made it perfectly clear that we were not in Kansas anymore. You can't always put your finger on it, but a subtle difference in the wording of comands gives you the sense that you have entered a different place, like we had driven across the border into Canada.

At the advice of the Klamath locals, we dutifully turned off the freeway at Grant's Pass to get lunch. Unable to make a decision in such a big town, we pulled into the largest and most obvious restaurant near the freeway, and this is what we found:

The Taprock restaurant, right on the Rogue River (unrelated, as I was sad to discover later, to the Rogue Brewery, which is on the coast in Newport, OR). As lunches go, it was 'spendy,' as the locals say, but worth the money. Actually, the view and the ambiance was worth the money, the food was just the icing. After the meal, we walked around the little manicured footpath which serves as a line for the riverboat tours that launch from the restaurant's little dock.

The rest of our trip was a short journey through Normal Rockwell's America, a perfect pastoral landscape book-ended on either side with a perfect pastoral landscape. We were tired and anxious to get home, but we drove a little slow anyway to take in the view.

Driving through the country brings some dormant patriotic feelings out in city dwellers like us. Being close to working farms reminds us of our roots, where this country came from. I have never lived on a farm. I have never worked on a farm. I have never even attempted to garden before moving up here (we are just getting started now, stockpiling compost for next spring and a few hearty winter crops). But the idea of the self sustaining farmer is so deeply embedded in the American subconscious that it is impossible not to feel a kinship, at least with the idea.

Since arriving at our new home, we have been making an effort to buy local, organic food as much as possible. I used to think that organic was just some fruity hippie thing, but the more I look into it, the more I realize that at the least, conventional farming is not sustainable. It kind of boggles the mind that in farming, conventional means planting genetically modified seeds with the terminator gene, spraying them with massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides that they are specifically bred to withstand, and shipping the product all over the world while importing tons of produce along parallel routes. Growing vegetable with natural fertilizer, weeding instead of using herbicide, and selling them locally is what we call the 'fruity hippie' way of farming.

We have also started buying 'grass finished' meat, which is more expensive, but we eat less meat than most anyway. Grass fed and grass finished means that the animal never spent any time in a concentrated feed lot, which seems to be the source of most current food safety concerns (all of those recent vegetable scares can be traced back to original contamination from feed lot waste). Also, it might just be psychological, but I think grass fed beef tastes much, much better than feed lot beef.

It is a little leaner, and I know it has a much higher concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, and it doesn't have that smell that beef from the supermarket usually has. I hate that smell. I got a cut of NY from one of the many local butchers (Springfield is a hunting town, and most hunters don't want to do the labor of butchering their catch) Longs, and grilled it up the way I usually grill a steak: rubbed with pepper and paprika, 4 minutes per side on an extremely hot grill (turning 30-45 degrees halfway through each side to get that crisscross look). It was one of the best steaks I have ever cooked. In my opinion, this is the only way to cook steak, other cuts you can cook however you like, but steak must be seared on a grill. (Note: if you use red pepper, it will turn into pepper spray on the hot grill. I always do this, and end up coughing and hacking through the rest of the meal prep)

This Saturday, we are looking forward to the Lane County Farmer's Market, where we can continue our support of local farmers. There is really no downside to fresh, traditionally grown vegetables and pasture grazed meat from local farmers: it tastes better, it's healthier, and it supports the community you live in. Win, win and win.

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