Fires, Smoke and Sadness

At fear of being horribly redundant in light of all the news coverage, living in California has been quite challenging this year. A seemingly endless string of huge destructive fires have ravaged our state. The latest, in the Santa Rosa/Napa/Sonoma area, is perhaps the worst and most heartbreaking I’ve heard of in a long time. In the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking my old hometown of San Jose another fire burns on. Here in the Oroville area things are calm at present, but we wait with baited breath for the promised rain tonight. Just a few weeks ago we had two separate fires to the north and south of us.

The air quality in our new hometown has been one factor that we didn’t consider carefully enough when moving up here. This summer the lingering smoke has played havoc on my lungs, I’ve been coughing a lot, and recently a cold turned quickly to bronchitis, no doubt exacerbated by the persistent smoke. Which is one reason we are talking seriously of moving, sooner rather than later. My husband is from Minnesota, and has fond memories of clean air–and despite the cold, it’s all sounding pretty good to me now. We’ve been visiting his family for the last 30+ years on a regular basis, and this year when we go back for the family Christmas gathering, we will take a serious look at whether or not we can make that jump and deal with the cold. My beloved California, I hate to leave, but you are becoming a place that isn’t good for me anymore.

Another reason I haven’t blogged in a while is quite serious — a close family member has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, which has spread to other organs. We are all in a state of shock, disbelief, grief and frustration over this sudden and overwhelming diagnosis. Home hospice care is already in place, and the blessing of a larger circle of friends and neighbors is reassuring — but living halfway across the country is so difficult, especially at times like these. I was able to fly back (Arkansas) to be with her for a while in early October.

Even with the heat and smoke (and before the sad news) I was able to get out and do a little plein air painting. The first is from a local olive oil producer, Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 in Butte County, and second from Riverbend Park over looking the Feather River in Oroville. It was recently reopened after extensive cleanup from erosion damage after the spillway failure in early 2017. If you click on the captions they link to my reproduction website.

Casita at Olive Grove 1913
Casita at Berkeley Olive Grove 1913
Summer, Riverbend Park
Summer, Riverbend Park.
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Garden Fresh Pizza

We enjoy pizza, like just about everyone I know, but since going vegan I’ve made a few changes… First off, I make my own pizza dough. To some this would seem tiresome and time consuming, but for us it makes all the difference. It only takes one hour of “pre-planning”.  I use whole wheat flour, which digests more slowly than white flour — and it works better for my husband, a type II diabetic who is well controlled but watches his carbs & sugar intact closely. I also add very little oil, and can flavor the dough with herbs to give it a more interesting flair. In the past we tried various prepared dough shells, but they all packed more of a carb/sugar/sodium wallop than this, and were dryer and tougher too.

Pizza-Assembly

Here’s the dough recipe I use:

Pizza Dough
1 pk active dry yeast (instant)
1C warm water
Sprinkle of sugar (coconut sugar)
Mix these together and let sit a few minutes till it bubbles.
Stir in ½ t Salt
1 t  Olive oil
1 t  herb mix (Herbs D’Provence or your favorites)
Gradually add 2C (+/-) Whole Wheat flour until it forms a ball, not too sticky.
Cover & let rest/rise for one hour
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll out dough to fit cookie sheet, lightly oil sheet, sprinkle with course corn meal (optional),
Place dough round on sheet, add fresh veg toppings. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until crust is done through. Enjoy!

Last night my toppings included white & baby bella mushrooms, sauteed with a quarter yellow onion (from the garden), olive oil from Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 that I purchased during a plein air painting trip a few weeks ago. Also about a cup and a half of cherry tomatoes from our garden, sliced to drain a little of the juice.

First I covered the rolled out dough with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast (vegan cheese flavor and good source of B vitamins), next a drizzle of the olive oil, and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Then came a layer of fresh baby spinach, followed by the mushrooms & onions, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil (yes, the garden), vegan Parmesan (Recipe Link Here), a bit more salt, pepper and Olive Oil. Bake 15 to 20 min, let sit 5 min. It was enough for both of us with a quarter size piece leftover — I had it for lunch today! Yum!

Hot-from-Oven

Too Scared To Stay…

Tonight as I sit at our dining room table, looking out at our lovely view of Lake Oroville, all is well in my immediate corner of the world — yet just a few miles away fire fighting efforts continue, the final efforts to contain the “Wall Fire” here in Butte County.

I first noticed the smoke plume from this fire around 4pm on Friday, July 7th, and from our perch here on Kelly Ridge, we saw it explode within a few short hours into a monster that ultimately claimed some 5,600 acres and an estimated 41 homes, 97 structures (at this writing).

Kelly Ridge was under an evacuation “warning” on Saturday 7/8, as this massive fire grew and grew, and although many of our neighbors stayed, we decided to leave at 2am on Sunday 7/9, just a half hour before the Sheriff came knocking on doors, urging people to leave soon. We had spent the day watching, waiting, and thinking about what to bring if we had to leave. Finally, unable to sleep, we called to find a pet friendly hotel in Chico, grabbed our two cats, carriers, a few changes of clothing, some financial papers, tablets and phones, and took off. It was a relief to finally act after a tense day of waiting and wondering. And a relief to settle in for the night somewhere safe and out of the dense smoke.

We stayed one more night, and came back on Monday — our area still under an evacuation “warning” (not mandatory) but now the fire was more contained, and appeared to be moving away us. We were all exhausted (the cats too!), but feel so grateful to find our home still here, our immediate neighborhood untouched. Not so for many in the burn area, who are still staying away, some not even knowing if their homes are still there.

How to help:

From Chicoer.com:

Butte County is asking that donations be dropped off to the General Services north parking lot, 2081 Second St. in Oroville between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Items needed include adult and baby diapers, baby wipes, Gatorade, water, ice in ice chests that don’t have to be returned.

The American Red Cross opened the evacuation center at Church of the Nazarene, 2238 Monte Vista Avenue, Oroville. Red Cross volunteers will connect displaced residents with emergency resources, regardless of whether they stay overnight at the shelter, according to Red Cross spokesperson Robin Friedman. Cash contributions can be made at www.redcross.org

The Salvation Army has responded with meals for first responders and victims. The organization is only asking for financial donations at this time. To donate, call 1-800-725-2769 and designate “Wall Fire” or go online at www.salvationarmyusa.org

Cash is also being asked from the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, according to spokesperson Sandra Doolittle. Donations can be made at www.nvadg.org/ or by calling 895-0000.

 

 

Mid Year Musings

June 1st was my one year mark as a “Whole Foods Plant Based, almost Vegan”! I say “almost vegan” because I continue to eat locally sourced honey to help with allergies, and will on occasion consume things with cheese or milk products in them. Sometimes I’m aware, and sometimes they just slip by. On whole, it’s been easy, and our diet is more nutritious and varied than ever before. Tim is just a month behind and “almost vegan” too, as he still consumes his favorite ranch dressing (with milk products), and his favorite coffee creamer.

I do not miss meat, and I sure don’t miss cooking it, smelling it, cleaning up after working with it — nope, none of that! We both feel good, and see no reason to go back. We get plenty of plant protein, and I don’t feel guilty when I see cattle these days, just sad for them.

On to other things — I’ve been doing more Plein Air painting since coming back from my Bay Area trip last month. With a few other like minded artists from my local art group, we’ve had two outdoor painting meetups — one at the ranch of a fellow member, and the other in downtown Oroville in Sank Park which surrounds the historic Lott House.

C. F. Lott House — A Victorian revival style structure, the C.F. Lott Home was built in 1856 by “Judge” Lott, a gold-rush pioneer who helped form California’s government and started the first Citrus Exchange in California. Although now over 150 years old, only two generations have lived in this house. Much of the original furnishings are onaa display to help tell the story of how the well-to-do lived “out west.” The collection includes antique furnishings, paintings, rugs, textiles, clothes, silver, and glassware from the period 1849-1910. A tour of the house reveals stories of the Lott family and their importance to early California (the Judge was also a State Senator). It also retells his daughter, Cornelia’s, love story with Jesse Sank and their eventual happiness. The house contains some unusual features, including the surprise built into the fireplace and an art-deco bathroom.

Sank Park encompasses the entire city block that Judge Lott bought in 1855 for $200. The garden contains a profusion of flowers, including an outstanding hybrid rose area. The park also contains a lovely gazebo as well as many colorful trees, and a picnic area in an orange grove. Don’t miss the carriage house with Jess and Cornelia’s 1922 Buick. Portions of the park may be reserved for weddings and other private functions by calling (530)-538-2415.  (http://www.cityoforoville.org/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/6/773

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C.F. Lott House, in downtown Oroville, CA
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My painting set up at Walker Ranch, Butte County, CA.
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My painting from the Walker Ranch session.

The heat is starting to set in here in Butte County, California. Projected temps over the 100 mark by the end of this week. I will continue to try to do as much outdoor painting as I can this summer, but when it’s really hot I work in my studio, which is nice and cool.

Trip to Bay Area, Participating in Art Show

On the heels of our painting trip to the Grand Canyon in early April, I was asked to show my work at the home gallery of Suzanne Elliott http://www.pleinairmuse.com/ in beautiful Bonny Doon, Santa Cruz, California. The show was scheduled over Mothers’s Day weekend, and was a good impetus to finish and frame more recent work, including several of the plein air paintings from the Grand Canyon trip.

Two paintings were sold prior to the show, both done in Plein Air style:


Here’s the gallery set up. We shared the indoor space, and a jewelry artist joined us, setting up in the patio:


The weather was beautiful, and the trip gave me an opportunity to see a few Bay Area friends along the way.

Before the show opened on Sunday we had a nice walk along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, beautiful! I do miss being closer to the ocean!


A few of the take away “future projects” which are now on my art “to do” list: create a batch of very small plein air painting to offer unframed and at a lower price point than framed work, and produce new greeting cards of recent work. These small items are a way for potential customers to dip their toes in my work without a larger expenditure. I’ll definitely do this before the next showing opportunity! Thanks Suzanne for the ideas and encouragement.

See more of my artwork here : oertlidesign.com

Now that I’m home there are also pressing gardening projects to get busy with. I just finished harvesting the huge batch of snap peas which exploded in the last few weeks when the weather suddenly turned to hot. I trimmed, blanched and froze several batches. I also created a  tasty soup with snap peas, carrots and onions, blended smooth yum!

Here’s the recipe for Sugar Snap Pea and Carrot Soup from Food.com: http://www.food.com/recipe/sugar-snap-pea-and-carrot-soup-517101?nl=email_share

Clearing the snap pea area in the raised bed for new plantings, and creating another new spot for planting nearby. Next up: zucchini, cucumber, more tomatoes and kale!

Painting on Location

We just returned from a magical trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, lucky to be included by a friend who travels regularly with a group of oil painters from Santa Cruz, CA. My friend Suzanne Elliott (http://www.pleinairmuse.com/) called me this past December and described the trip, and as the Grand Canyon has been on my “bucket list”, it didn’t take long say YES! I’m blessed with an amiable spouse who was happy to go along, see the sites and hang with a congenial art group from Santa Cruz Oil Painters (http://www.santacruzoilpainters.com/)

Not a quick trip for us, a drive to the Sacramento airport, flight to Phoenix, picked up our rental car and detoured to Sedona for a late lunch at Pisa Lisa (http://pisalisa.com/) had a really great mushroom pizza, although we veered off our vegan diet to include some cheese on this trip! Sedona is beautiful, and I’d love to go back and stay a few days to paint at some later date. We drove on to the Yavapai Lodge inside the park, arriving a bit after 6pm — but the last hour of travel was in blowing snow!! Beautiful as it cleared that evening.

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The next morning we met up with some of the other painters at Moran Point, about 26 miles from the Yavapai. Here was my first set up, and of course the view was stunning.

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What is the lure of painting “en plein aire” as opposed to in the comfort of one’s studio? Spending time in nature, taking the time to soak in an area like the South Rim! We stayed at each painting location at least 2-1/2 to three hours — some did longer sessions. Tourists came and went, quickly running up to the vantage points, snapping photos (and endless selfies) and running back to their vehicles. Strange to be a painter out there on display as much as the scenery. All in all, I got a lot of nice complements on my work — although it’s distracting to get interrupted by strangers with questions. Some wanted to take my photo, which was strange to me, but maybe we were as much of a “sight” as the location for those who had never seen artists working?

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Now I’m home, and working on finishing touches to these little 9 x 12″ paintings in the comfort (and quiet) of my studio. I’ll share a few in this space in a later blog. This trip also taught me about the process of traveling with my art supplies. For some tips on that check out Sue’s blog: http://www.pleinairmuse.com/traveling-artist-packing.html. It was so helpful that she and several others had driven in from California, and were generous in sharing their Gamsol! Otherwise, a stop at the art store in Phoenix would have been a must.

On Life’s Canvas…

Things here above the Oroville Dam are moving along as usual, although our favorite “back road to town” is now and for the foreseeable future unavailable due to the continuing spillway retrofitting. I do miss it, it was so much more picturesque than the highway route — and a bit quicker.

In the garden things are changing. I’ve harvested the last tail ends of my broccoli, which did marvelously well — and so gratifying for a first try at that vegetable. Next in that spot will be the summer tomatoes I think. The sugar snap peas, which are in the same raised bed, are getting ready to pod. This will be another first for me, not sure how that harvest will go as they’ve been battered by wind and rain off and on lately.

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Yes, this is really MY broccoli, not stock photo!! Much greener than grocery store equivalent!

New plantings in the other raised bed of garlic, onions, lettuce, parsley and cilantro are all looking promising. And my many 5 gallon pots of potatoes are all leafing out nicely, should be a huge harvest eventually. What I’m particularly proud of are my tiny Fuji Apple seedlings — I need to get a photo — from seeds of an apple purchased and eaten last summer. It will be interested to see how they do… if I’m here long enough to see it!

Here’s something I threw together for dinner the other night as I had almost a full jar of pasta sauce in the fridge…

Mushroom Pasta in Tomato Sauce

  • 2 C brown rice pasta (I used elbow), cooked separately
  • 8 oz white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 16 oz mini portabello mushrooms (or several large ones), cleaned and sliced
  • 2 C fresh baby spinach (slighly chopped)
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 1 t  Garlic powder
  • 1/2 t Herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 t Dried Basil
  • 1/2 t Onion Powder
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:  Sauté mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil or vegetable broth until softened, add seasonings and spinach. Sauté on medium heat until spinach is limp, add tomato sauce — lower heat, stir to combine and heat sauce. Add cooked pasta and combine. Serve with Vegan Parmesan on top. You could also throw in any other bits of cooked vegetables you need to use up!

Here are a couple of small oil paintings I’ve recently worked on, they were started outside “Plein Air” style and finished up in the studio — the location is Kelly Ridge state land, right behind our house:

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And a drawing (30 min study from  live model, pastel) from the portrait group I attend:

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