A weekend in the woods

Piney woods, an enormous, venerable ranch house, the occasional animal head and bearskin rug and a river runs through it!  Pine Valley Ranch is in the capable hands and loving stewardship of a good friend of mine.  The ranch has been in his family for nearly 50 years; at one time a working cattle ranch, today the property – some 500+ acres along the Yakima River outside Cle Elum, WA – is home and retreat.  Work is underway to establish permanent protection of this unspoiled habitat, home to salmon, trout, elk, bear(?), and “every sort of migratory water fowl” around.

I try and get myself invited to “the ranch” at least once a year.  Generally, some great weather event befalls my stay and we battle snow, floods or other climatic calamity; it’s funny how I always come away so rested in spite of it.  This year the weather cooperated (although the river had jumped its banks just a few days earlier when a warm, and very wet front moved through the area.)  We arrived on Saturday afternoon under blue skies and relatively warm temperatures considering the time of year and the fact that we were at about 3,000 ft.

A trip to the ranch is a trip back in time.  Heavy, handcarved wood molding, banisters and framing outline the majestic scale of the great room, warmed by not one, but two roaring fireplaces.  A benevolent 14 point buck (or at least the front 1/3 of him) gazes down on us lolling on comfortable chairs and sofas as we drink red wine and nosh on appetizers.  Pendleton blankets and Native American rugs furnish deep armchairs and benches; family photos, NW art and an autographed photo of JFK (I kid you not!!!) hang on the paneled walls.

Outside the stacks of multi-paned windows, old pines, firs and cedars line the river and wander off through meadows, around ponds and up to the nearby freeway, which you can sorta hear in the distance (but we pretend is the river.)  Apparently, the fishing is top notch in the river, if you go for that sort of thing.  We northwesterners sometimes get jaded to our green forests and magnificent woods; if you had to put up with the rain that grants us these beauties you’d understand why.  But this little part of the Cascade range never ceases to impress me with its dense timberlands, roaring waterfalls and lush undergrowth.  I love the smells; the camphorus trees, the duff on the woodland floor, the “green” smell of the river and ponds.  The golden retriever who rolled in the stinky dead fish – that’s another matter.  But he was soooo blissed out it was hard to grudge him his grunge.

We dined like honored guests, talked like old friends, slept like babies and returned to the city refreshed and restored.  What a treat!  Ahhhhh.

An easy recipe in honor of our “Grand” forests

Delicious Grand Fir Infused Oil

in a shallow pan on the stove over medium heat, gradually warm 1 cup of olive, grapeseed  or other mild flavored oil.  Place finely minced, clean, dry Grand Fir needles (Abies grandis) into the warm oil and allow to sizzle gently for 10 minutes.  They will give up their resinous oils and deep green color to infuse the oil with flavor and fragrance.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before bottling and storing away from heat and light.  Drizzle on potatoes, pasta, and cream soups for a hit of goodness and the NW woods.

I first learned of this preparation when we stayed at the Sooke Harbour House Inn in British Columbia last fall.  It’s delicious and it occurs to me that it might make a lovely holiday gift as well.