Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Update on our wildfire

Right now, I am living and breathing two things:

1) The wildfire that's burning very, very close to our house (and spreading).

2) Marketing my online cheese making course.

These are the things that are consuming my life at the moment (besides rearing my children, taking care of animals and gardens, and doing some laundry every now and then).

About the wildfire: There is the Upper Skagit complex fire that's within ten miles of us (6,700 acres burnt so far), and there is the Okanagan complex just over the mountains (257,000 acres burnt so far, and probably more after this post is published).  The latter fire is making international news, prompting concerned calls from my family in Germany.  

This was a flare-up on Monday, when the fire ran up Newhalem Creek. Photo taken two minutes from our house.
We are not in danger, I think.  Everyone re-assures us that it is very unlikely that the fire will spread in our direction (west), since it wants to go uphill and east.  Nevertheless, anxiety in our community runs high.  And I, not known as being particularly calm and centered, but possessing a natural abundance of anxiety-proneness, I am obsessively watching internet news and Facebook posts about the fires.

It doesn't help that ever other day, the wind blows from the east, and thick smoke covers our valley.  Some days are so bad that we don't want to go outside at all.  The other day, I picked beans for making pickles, but had to go inside quickly because my lungs started hurting.  On these days, the sun is a hazy ball of orange, obscured by thick layers of smoke.

The following pictures all depict smoke, not fog or clouds.  Smoke.

One good thing about being trapped in the house is that I get some canning done.

Some days are sunny and blue-skied.  This happened a few days ago, and my friend Andrea and I took our daughters for a hike and then a swim at Baker Lake.  The sunny (albeit smokey) horizon felt heavenly.  We hiked up a short way into the mountains, where we lunched by a magical tarn, accompanied by our good friend, Mount Baker.  

Then on to Baker Lake for a swim.  I can't tell you how good it felt to be out.  Nature, lakes, rivers and mountains are incredibly important for my sanity.  When I'm deprived of being out there, I get especially whacky.  

One of the reasons I'm so freaked out about these fires is the loss of so much land.  What of the animals?  Yes, I know they are resourceful, and yes, I know fires do occur naturally, but still... The animals must be freaked out by all the smoke and loss of their homes.  There are especially huge piles of bear poop around our neighborhood lately.  On a run, our neighbor saw two baby bears climbing a tree.  Are these critters being driven down to the valley bottom by the fires?

And the trees, the beloved big cedars and firs and hemlocks.  I know for a fact that some of the trees we picnicked under just last week are now dead, charred, and fallen.  It makes my heart hurt.

Anxiety, sadness, annoyance, yes.  But I am also very grateful that we still have a house to live in, that we have an incredibly strong, bonded community (that's small-town livin' for you!), that the world has firefighters who put their lives on the line.  Thank you, firefighters.  We love you, and we will continue to bake cookies for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My online cheesemaking course

Last month, when I launched my online cheese making course, I truly didn't have any idea how it would be received.  I did know that I worked very hard on this course over the past months.  I wrote e-books and took many photographs.
I made movies to demonstrate cheesemaking techniques, which was super fun because Steve took the movies and cracked me up a lot.  I collected and tested recipes (my family especially liked the cheesecake made with Chevre) and set up a virtual classroom on my website.  I was proud of my course, but nervous, since this was the first online course I ever designed and taught.

I shouldn't have been scared.  The course was an absolute success.  People were raving about it and wrote glowing testimonials.  During the four weeks of the course, people posted pictures of their Greek Yogurt, Chevre, Gouda and Cabra al Vino cheeses on our private Facebook group, over-the-moon excited about their creations.  I felt like a mother hen, clucking over my charges, watching their every move.  I am so proud of my students!

And the most surprising thing of all is how much fun this was for me!  I loved sending out weekly e-mails, checking our Facebook group for questions and show-off pictures, and leading weekly teleconference calls where I got to meet my students.  It was a diverse bunch from all over the country, even someone from Europe!

So here's the thing: I'm teaching this course again, starting September 21.  Even if you think you could never make cheese, I challenge you.  Yes, you can.  And in this course, I hold your hand every step of the way.  You know, like a mother hen.

I invite you to hang out with me and make some kick ass cheese.  You can totally do it.

Watch this very short movie I made to give you a preview and some free tips and tricks for successfully making cheese at home.

Free tips and tricks for successfully making cheese at home: Greek Yogurt, Chevre, Gouda and Cabra al Vino from Corina Sahlin on Vimeo.

Or go to my website to get more info, or to read the glowing testimonials (blush), or to sign up.  Click here.

And if you don't want to have anything to do with making cheese, maybe you could share this post or tell your friends about it.  Word of mouth is the best advertising, after all.

PS: The course starts September 21, and the early bird pricing ($59 for the whole thing!) ends September 6th (then it goes up to $79).  So if you know you want to participate, sign up now!  No pressure or anything.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Terrible wild fires virtually in our backyard

I'm writing this update for all of our concerned friends and family.  The West is burning, and we are a part of that.  Here is a video a friend took ten miles from our house:

We woke up to dense smoke filling our valley on Wednesday morning.  Not knowing what was happening and thinking the smoke came from fires far away over the mountains, I took the kids to visit a friend half an hour West of our home.  When we drove home, we saw this view in the East - a thick column of smoke from the direction of our house.

I knew about a fire in Newhalem that had been started by a lightning strike August 10.  In fact, just three days prior, Eva and I had driven over there for a little hike.  There were two small cylinders of smoke, and they had been contained, a ranger at the visitor's center told me.  This is what it looked like three days ago - not too bad, but I was worried anyway.

Here is what this little wisp of smoke developed into on Wednesday, prompting the closure of Highway 20 and the evacuation of the towns of Newhalem, Diabolo, Ross Lake Resort, and several campgrounds.

It is heartbreaking.  This fire has now grown into two separate beasts, one heading towards the town of Diabolo, and one going in the other direction.  According to the news, the fire is approaching SCL's Skagit Hydroelectric Project.  The fire is burning on the north side of Highway 20.

Today, Thursday, we drove up to Newhalem, which is ten miles away from us, to see if we could get any answers.  Our usually very, very busy Highway is dead.  No cars.  No bicyclists.  A sign seven miles from our house warns about the wildfire and low visibility due to smoke.

We couldn't get into Newhalem, because trucks blocked the Highway.  One of our friends, who lives in Newhalem and is on the crew keeping the town safe, told us what he knows: the fire is very active and spreading - away from us, but spreading.  Nobody knows what will happen - it will depend on the ever-shifting wind, and many other factors.  Diabolo and Newhalem are ghost towns. 

That's all I know for now.  If I misreported anything, I'm sorry... things are chaotic, and information is hard to come by.  We don't have TV, and the internet is not very forthcoming right now.

The most terrible thing is that on the other side of the mountains, 90 minutes away form us, wildfires are raging as well.  It is very, very dry there, and fires are burning rampantly and out of control.

Three firefighters died yesterday while fighting the fires.  Many, many houses have burnt down.  We have several friends over there whom we can't reach.  Everyone has been evacuated (Winthrop, Twisp).  Highways are closed.  Smoke is everywhere.

I can't complain about our situations since we don't seem to be threatened.  The people over there have it much worse...

When I saw the growing column of smoke yesterday, I freaked out, not knowing if we were safe, wondering how to proceed.  What do you take with you when you have to leave your home, knowing it will get devoured by flames?  I would take my animals for sure.  The goats could go in our minivan. But how do you transport four pigs that weigh 300 pounds each?

I am grateful for the firefighters who are working so hard, so relentlessly, risking their lives.  Heroes, all of them.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I wish you could sit at my kitchen table and smell this...

I wish you could stick your nose into my kitchen right now.  You would be transported to Italy, with smells of caramelizing, roasting tomatoes, garlic, basil and rosemary.  Our tomatoes are going nuts in our greenhouse, so I decided to roast some for freezing later.  

If you come by and can't find us, we are probably in the greenhouse.  Steve and I sneak in there a lot during the day to grab sun warmed tomatoes, eating them like apples. I often visit the greenhouse as soon as I wake up - even before milking the goats.  The smell is intoxicating, and the sight of the plants bending with their heavy load is something to behold.

While I'm roasting tomatoes in the oven, I'm also making pasta sauce for dinner, simmered and reduced to sticky sweetness on the stove all day, to be served with homemade pasta.  Does life get any better than this?

Yes, I just woke up.

This week has been all about food and drink.  There was a wedding at the neighbors' who begged me to make fresh Chevre and homemade cheesecake.  I obliged, of course.

Then there's Kombucha... We are drinking lots of it.
And the Beet Kvass is ready, too.  It looks gorgeous, made with beets, salt and whey - pink as pink can be, and apparently very, very healthy.

Also, I've been making lots meals with my Cabra Al Vino cheese and taking pictures of them for my upcoming online cheese making class.  

My kids love the Kombucha
Twice fermented Kombucha, this time with blackberries.  See the bubbles?
Beet Kvass.  Crazy color, right?

The boys were at the County Fair and spent time away at a sleepover, so little Eva and I had some nice girl time.  Later in the week, her best friend joined her.  What do we do?  Walks in the woods, girl things like painting nails (hers, not mine), taking the goats for walks.

When the boys are back home, we girls need a little time to re-adjust to the wilder boy energy.  I love it when one of the boys will slow down long enough to cuddle on the sofa, reading a book to their little sister.  And when the energy bubbles over too crazily, we head on over to the creek, where they get their yahyah's out.


Maybe you be blessed with tomato-overabundance, too, and maybe a hit of energetic boy energy!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


This week, we harvested three big staples for our diet: onions, garlic and potatoes.  After planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing and babying our crops for many months, harvest time is always exciting.

It has been such a shitty year weather wise, I'm surprised anything is growing here.  I'm not happy with the onions, but the garlic is gorgeous, and the taters are okay.

We are getting apples from our trees.  Williams Pride, one of my favorites, is loaded.  The kids have been eating apples from our Liberty tree for weeks, although they are not ripe yet, but the kids like them that way.

Harvest time is not just a personal time for celebration for us, but also a communal affair.  We live in an area with some great organic farmers and home gardeners.  

The other day, we hosted a potluck at our place, and I'm telling you, if you want to feast on the best, freshest, local food, invite your farming friends.  Wild caught salmon, corn on the cob, Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and Feta, potato salad, basil pesto, blackberry cobbler with whipping cream. 

Many of us might be considered poor by money standards, but really, we are rich.  We eat like royalty.  We have clean water and cold rivers to jump into.  We have loyal friends (humans and animals).  We are surrounded by stunning flowers.

These are sunflowers at our friend's farm, where we picked up huge zucchinis to feed to our pigs.
These are our own sunflowers - not blooming yet, but almost twice as tall as the kids.
I'm making all kinds of fun, fermented drinks for our oh-so-important gut health.  There's Kombucha, of course, and Beet Kvass, a drink made with beets, whey and salt.  Kvass is an excellent blood tonic, liver cleanser, and cure for kidney stones.  Plus, it's super pretty.

I'm working on an online fermentation workshop, where I'll teach things like how to make Sauerkraut, Kombucha, yogurt, different lacto fermented goodies, and some awesome bread.  I'll keep you posted. 

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