BBQ in a Bucket

They used to make the most clever thing I’ve ever seen or used. I found it at Goodwill a few years ago, but even then, I didn’t know just how useful it would be. I bought it assuming it would sit with our camping gear until I got sick of it taking up space. It took up space for a good year before finally taking it foraging one day. We packed some steak, veggies, and a picnic blanket, then we went on our way. It was drizzly as it usually is in the fall in the Pacific Northwest. We walked for several fruitless hours before we realized that we were getting cranky from being so hungry. The Gangster of Food always needs to find the perfect picnic spot, so when we spied a sun-soaked grassy patch along a creek, we b-lined down to it. He started the fire and I laid out the picnic blanket and readied the feast for fire. This was the beginning of countless times we’ve make use of our little portable grill.

Why exactly are we so enamored with it? Well, because you can barbecue in a park that isn’t equipped with grills, you can snuggle up on a picnic blanket right next to a creek and make delicious steak, and while camping you can pull some coals off the big grill and grill your veggies on a smaller grill where they won’t fall into the fire. It creates the intense heat of a little oven, but it’s super easy to set up and compact if you want to keep your car camping and day hiking gear down to a minimum, but still want to make more than oatmeal and freeze-dried soup.


When a certain someone is around, he doesn’t make just steak, he insists on grilling asparagus, onions, and any fungus we might forage that day.


No matter how prepared we think we are, we often have to improvise. On this day, when snuggled up next to a creek after hiking and foraging, we used newspaper and a loaf of bread to absorb the juices because we forgot plates.

Burning the Thighs at Table Mountain

Poison Oak on this trail.

Step away from the poison oak

I noticed all this Poison Oak because it got me the week before when I thoughtlessly zipped off my clever little hiking pants’ legs and romped about looking for morels. I must have brushed a plant or two. Lesson learned: Don’t go-go gadget short pants unless I’m paying attention to what lurks on the floors of the forest.

We started at the Aldridge Butte trailhead and, through a little trial and error, made our way up to the top of this exhilarating hike. Such Great Hikes recounts exactly how hard this hike is, and gives great stats, to boot.

This hike is like sticking an Elk Mountain hike in the middle of a shorter Dog Mountain. But I liked it. I liked how the cool, moist creekside forest opened up to the steep, dry stands of rocks. Being exposed and hot made the forest that much more of a treat as you weaved through it one last time before your final climb up The Rocks…. But before you get to that point, you hit the tough climb, which is the Elk Mountain part.

From this point, I felt like my lungs were getting more than their fair share of work, but when we hit the rock slide, my thighs were shaking. I felt the burn. I crawled up the rock, spider-like on all fours because a) I’m clumsy, and b) my legs were rubber banding.

Nettles and minor’s lettuce at the lower elevations, and trillium blooming higher up. I fell down from standing up before I did any of the strenuous work, and got a great bruise on my arm that lasted almost a week. It was “s” shaped.

Lunch, views, and the first reward: changing into my flip flops.

Second reward was grabbing a beer at the Tippy Canoe on the way back.

The Siouxon Trail

After a few wrong turns off and onto a meandering Washington street, we finally found the Siouxon trailhead. This near-Mount St. Helens hike took us through an old-growth Sycamore forest. The late winter is too early for mushrooms, but we saw lots of beautiful ferns and moss. I don’t really know any varieties besides the Sword fern, Bracken fern, and  the Lady fern, and I’m not sure I could distinguish all three.

You can actually find this trail in the Gifford Pinchot NF, but it’s close enough to St. Helens to group it in with those hikes. This is the type of hike you fantasize about on a 99 degree day with 100 % humidity — icy pools of mountain water, clear to rocks on the bottom. Makes me thirsty just remembering it.

Being a fairly flat hike (you gain about 700 feet in 4 miles) makes this one good to do early in the season (if you don’t mind getting wet). A starter hike for the year. No matter what, hiking from October until May is touch-and-go. It can be perfect, like our 75-degree, sunny day at the coast last November, or a nightmare like when I thought I wouldn’t need a raincoat or long sleeves (detoured to a winery so not that bad after all). Hiking in the rain isn’t terrible in the warm weather, but even then, water-soaked pants to socks make you bone-cold and miserable, not to mention you won’t want to stop for the necessary after-hike beer. It helps if you remember to pack some flip flops and a skirt for after your hike. These essentials are pre-packed in my hiking bag all summer long.

I would do this hike again, but I noticed that the mountain bikers keep this trail busy and muddy, and the pools of water probably draw crowds in the summer. There are a bunch of trails that intertwine with this one, so it might be a good place for a backpacking trip to seek out further on pools with fewer people.

The Grande Finale for this Year

We found a great hike just past Hood River that’s worth checking out. It’s the Tom McCall Preserve Park. There is conflicting information about how long it is, but from what I gather, you can do two hikes and one is about 2 miles and the other is about 3 miles. The longer  one is right off the  roundabout parking lot. The shorter one takes you to to two lakes, or what I would call ponds, and has a nice view of the Columbia, except highway 84 drums along below.

This hike is in that weird area that is not yet central Oregon, but also not quite Mount Hood forest. This means that it doesn’t get as much rainfall as the Mt Hood forest and it gets a whole lot more sun, which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure this hike would be a big mud slide if it got any more rain.

Mud Slick Trail

Mud Slick Trail

It also has the Ponderosa pines of Central Oregon.

Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa Pine

We went in late fall just before it closed so we didn’t get to see wild flowers, but apparently it is full of wild flowers during wild flower times of year. I think it’s a good starter hike for the year because the 3 miler is steep but short and not undo-able steep. Once you get to the top, you have nice views of the Willamette, and you feel accomplished.

The Columbia River

The Columbia River

View of Mt Hood

View of Mt Hood

You can go a little further, but it’s kind of hard to tell where it actually ends. We stopped when we hit fence that didn’t let us go around.

Backpacking in the Bull of the Woods

I’ve lived in Portland since 1996, and have always planned on backpacking. From the get go, I didn’t purchase the full-on, big ass car camping stove, but instead invested in a little lightweight stove. My sleeping bag and tent were made for backpacking even though I didn’t venture far from my car. My dog unnecessarily squeezed into the teeny 2-person tent. The lighter and smaller equipment came in handy when I was backpacking across Europe in 2005, but otherwise was pretty silly to own.  Virgin Atlantic Airlines tried to keep me from the European travel backpacking by losing my equipment, but I was persistent and replaced my lost gear in Dublin. Too bad the camping in Europe was disappointing. “Camping” in Corsica was a whole other story.

cows on beach

Camping in Europe is decidedly less private and fun than camping in Oregon with the exception of  camping on the lush lawn in Dabo, France, which was quite pleasant (athough not private, they provided beer in the little office and clean showers).

Camping in Dabo

Twelve years later, after hiking almost every weekend for the last 70 (my 2008 New Year’s resolution), I finally left my car 5.2 miles behind and carted 40 pounds worth of stuff to set up camp in the Bull of the Woods wilderness in Oregon.

Fording a creek

Backpacking was well worth the anticipation. Part of the beauty was the challenge of trying to pack 3 days worth of what I’d need into one bag. I’m not the worst packer as I’ve had experience packing for extended trips through Mexico, Central America, and Europe, but I’m also not the best at denying myself small luxuries, such as whiskey, good food, and nice lounging skirt (which is actually going to be a staple). I made my list and have since revised it to account for what I want to add and what I can forget about. Some day I’ll have the perfect checklist for my backpacking trips.

The challenge of hiking with all this stuff was exhausting.  It was only 5ish miles to hike in, but we had to climb over about 3 dozen down trees and ford like 7 streams and creeks. My toes blistered and the muscles in my legs lost their will to be strong. Stopping to set up camp felt so good.


And my first drink was the most amazing whiskey I’ve ever had. Not being a huge fan of whiskey, me finding it delicious is saying a lot. I thought about carting a bottle of wine, but that would have been ridiculous.

Backpacking may not be for everyone just like hiking isn’t for everyone. If you’re especially drawn to off-season hikes, and find you sacrifice good hikes for hikes with fewer people, backpacking may be a good next step for you.

You might think the reasons I like hiking and backpacking are that I enjoy solitude and the sound of nothing but cicadas, or your occasional Western Screech owl or Sora Crake. But, there’s something else that is so amazing about the accomplishment of a hike or backpacking trip. It’s the activity itself that clears my head of those thoughts that bog down my every day cycle of thoughts. When I’m forced to refocus for several hours, my day-to-day worries dim, and my right-now thoughts prevail. Things pop into my head like what I really want to be doing with my 40 hours every week, Mike and I discuss how gazpacho in a tall glass would be perfect for our wedding party dinner, I realize that I want to learn (and write) about how to make spore prints to help with the mushroom identification, and I flesh out Ysabel and Ezra’s final scene filled with love and resentment.

I’m definitely out there hiking because of things like Huckleberries, Oregon Lilies, and sounds of creeks, but the way hiking, and now backpacking, help me disconnect from my world is what drives me to do it almost every weekend.

Why Should You Make Stock?

First off, I am a huge fan of sticking it to the man.


In this case, the man happens to be companies, huge and small, that convince you they should do simple things like slice bread for you and make you bland stock. Stock is something that is extremely useful and easy to make yourself and freeze for future consumption. Also, it’s a good way to retain nutrients from flabby vegetables and weird chicken parts you’re not going to eat otherwise. The veggies can go in the compost after you make stock out of them.


You can make chicken stock out of soft carrots, onions, celery, parsley, chicken bones, and gizzards. Our grandparents (or great-grandparents) may not have done this (unless you are French), but they should have instead of making boils. It is resourceful, not too hard, and it makes everything more delicious and nutritious. If you’ve never made stock before, you can use a good reference book like Stocking Up by Carol H. Stoner or Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, but I outline the basics in the following steps. I don’t add salt, pepper, or herbs until I’m using the stock to make soup, rice, stir fry, or whatever I decide to make with it.

  1. Think about your biggest stock pot, and you will need to fill it half way (or less) with veggies and chicken. You can use only veggies to make a yummy vegetarian stock.
  2. Save up your veggies and chicken parts for a week or so by throwing them in the freezer. Use a Ziploc or plastic bag so you don’t get salmonella on your ice.
  3. When you have enough produce and chicken for your stock, put the chicken into the pot and cover generously with water. Pretend the pot is divided into 8 sections and if the chicken fills up to the 3, add water to the 6 so there is more than twice as much water as chicken.
  4. Bring just to a boil, then lower to a low simmer.
  5. Next, you perform the most important step: skim the grime off. Also known as scum. This is where you get a lot of the fat out and you remove the bits that will affect the stock clarity. This is not a science, and you can always skim more. Just do it a few times and call it “good enough.” You will be straining the stock, so no need to go crazy neurotic here.
  6. When the previous step is complete, add the veggies.
  7. Bring the stock up just to a boil again, and lower to a low simmer.
  8. Keep it at a low simmer for a few hours for a 4 quart size pot, and for 6-8 hours for a huge stock pot. For a huge pot, I let it simmer over night, but you need to be very careful. It needs to be on low, and there should be plenty of liquid in the pot. If you often forget about things on the stove, don’t do this!
  9. When done, strain the veggies and chicken pieces out. Reserve the stock and let cool. You can fill quart- or pint-sized containers with the stock and freeze.

Et voila!


I know it seems like a long time, but you don’t need to interact with it much after the skimming step. And when you’re done, you can use the stock to make delicious soup, and any other dish to give the flavor more depth and nutrients.  Use it instead of water when you make rice, or use it in a stir fry.

Little Crater Lake at MT Hood

On Sunday June 21, 2009, we started at the most amazing trail head that I’ve ever seen. The spring-fed Little Crater Lake is 45-feet deep and less than 100 feet in diameter, and it remains a steady 40ish degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Brrr. Unfortunately, in my picture you can’t really see how clear and deep the water is because of the rain.


We decided to take the trail towards Salmon Creek.  There were lots of interesting mushrooms along the way. Mostly Amanitas and false Morels. We also saw a beautiful Reishi mushroom.


We found bonus beauty in this hike by stepping through some clear cut to visit the far-off meadow you could barely see from the trail. We couldn’t frolic in the meadow because it was a swampy buggy thing. As a matter of fact, there were still ponds and puddles everywhere with plenty of mosquitoes that swarmed the second you stopped moving.


It was a nice hike that would have been nicer had it not rained. We probably did around 8 miles in a few hours.  We forgot our picnic blanket, so we didn’t really eat our lunch while we were hiking like we usually do. We don’t usually remember the blanket, but when the ground is wet, a picnic is the last thing on your mind. We used to bring wine or beer with us, but found it way too hard to get up and hike more after drinking. Sometimes it’s actually a little dangerous.

I should preface this next part with the fact that I sometimes hallucinate when I’m tired. This just is what it is. I was vaguely looking at the car parked next to our pickup as we hoofed the last hundred feet, and I thought out loud, it’s funny how a woman looks naked from a distance when she’s wearing a peach shirt…oh wait, she IS naked. I guess we interrupted a hot, heavy and very naked session when we returned to our car. But really people, when there are empty campgrounds around, why would you go and park in a parking lot next to a car? Next to the only car in the lot as a matter of fact. Clothes were flying everywhere, butts were diving back into the back seat as we averted our eyes (or tried to avert our eyes) and opened our car.

I can think of a million different ways to do it outside and not get caught or be stuck in a lousy car. You just need to keep your pants zipped up long enough to walk around and find a good romantic place with sunlight streaming through the coniferous branches. A car is not romantic at all. Maybe the old ’57 Chevys were more romantic and roomier, but cars nowadays are not. People spend far too much time in cars creating a feeling of solitude, but you’re not alone in your car. People can see you.

Am I a Good Hike or a Bad Hike?

Panther Creek (in Washington)  is one of those hikes that I keep wanting to be more than it is without appreciating what it does have to offer. It’s not usually crowded. It’s not that far from Portland. It can be as long, or short, as you want because it’s part of the thousands of miles in the Pacific Crest Trail. It does have some views when you near the top.


The hot breath of the old growth forest engulfs you with the smell of wild blackberry, strawberry and hemlock while local plant life slowly emerges.


You see Oregon Grape, Calypso Orchids, Fairy Bells, Amanita Muscaria, and red flowering currant.

We hiked this on Sunday May 31, 2009 and it was our first super hot hike this year. We needed to conserve water towards the end. Because of this, I resolved to freeze a Nalgene bottle of water for the car, bring our 3 liter water bag, and even add another Nalgene bottle in Mike’s pack for summer hikes. Going thirsty not only makes you crabby, but also runs you down for the rest of the day. Another thing I’ve started to do is fill the water bag 1/3 of the way and freeze that. Such a big chunk of ice cools your pack for most of a long hike and melts by the end of the hike. You can always suck on ice if it doesn’t melt. But this is rare in the Pacific Northwest July and August hikes.

The not-so good things about Panther Creek are that the creek is in the beginning, and there’s no true water sources for the entire trail. It also feels like you don’t have a destination, because you really don’t. So, if you’re up for a hike that is more about the journey than the destination, pick up a PNW plant identification book, such as Handbook of Northwestern Plants, bring lots of water, and hit the Panther Creek trail.

Hiking near Sisters, Oregon

Spring is a difficult time of year for hiking in the mountains. It’s not easy to know where the snow levels are, even if you ask the locals. We wanted to hike up to Three Creek Lake near Sisters, Oregon so we asked at the local biker bar, Scoots. They told us that they were pretty sure the road was open, but when we got there, we still had to hike 1/2 mile in the snow to the trail head. Then another 1.75 miles to the lake. The difficult part was that it was a pretty decent ascent in the snow.

Long path in the snow

But the reward was well worth it. The glacial lake at the top was breathtaking.


Mike decided to go fishing while I relaxed and enjoyed the 75 degree day. I loved looking at the snow and ice while the sun beat down on me.


It was a really nice hike, and a pretty good workout, but I do need to waterproof my boots because I got pretty bad blisters, and I assume they were from the moisture that crept into my boots. I like my little Solomon hikers that I got when we were in Granada, Spain, but it seems like they trap too much moisture. Well the snow is melting fast in the 80 degree days, so I might not have to deal with blisters for a while.

Sauvie Island Hike

Sunday we picked a closer-to-the-city hike because we’re limited on time and we have been wanting to explore Sauvie Island. It’s a funny place with all its house boats.

The problem is that everyone else probably wants to do the same on this 70 degree day. We shortened our morning routine by eating PB&HJ (peanut butter and huckleberry jam) sandwiches. Usually we cook breakfast. Mike’s been making savory Cream of Wheat lately. Yesterday, he used chives from the garden and topped it with a fried egg. It was delicious.

We are hoping that shortening our morning will get us out of here in good time so we can beat the crowds. Just like my dad used to do when we’d leave Sunday mass earlier than everyone else so we wouldn’t get stuck in the long lines of people piling out of the parking lot onto Indian Head Rd.

Maybe Portlanders are all doing their Sunday brunch thing and they are stuck in line at Tin Shed or Cup & Saucer.

So, we got there at 11 AM (not as early as we wanted) and hiked for only a few hours (until 1:45). We went to Oak Island, which appears to be more of a peninsula on Sauvie Island. It was really nice to have the change of scenery being in a long flat meadow rather than a steep Pine or Alder forest.

Of course we needed to go off trail which winded up being an hour-and-a-half detour because we got turned around and found ourselves following some kind of animal trail through red huckleberry, blackberry, nettles, and oregon grape.

Ouch! Of course I wore a sleeveless shirt so my arms are scratched puffy red. On the way back we stopped for a 30 minute hike through Forest Park to check out a mushroom spot.

We passed through and around St. Johns several times hoping to find that perfect lunch spot. Kristen never called us back so we almost gave up hope, but then we saw the enticing sign for Leisure Public House, and its “Great Food”. I liked the atmosphere and the food.