Pin It Crippen Creek Chronicles: 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If It Looks Like A Duck

If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck but doesn't quack like a duck, then it's probably a Muscovy duck. Last summer when I first entertained the idea of raising ducks, I found that the most common breed available for meat was the white Pekin. This is what stores sell as Long Island Duckling. When you think of duck as being fatty or greasy, this is the duck in question. This is the duck of choice for commercial purposes because they gain weight rapidly and are ready for the market in 7 to 8 weeks. Just as we reject the Cornish Cross hen because it also was bred for rapid weight gain, we decided against the Pekin.

After consulting with one of my favorite chefs, we decided on the Muscovy. The Muscovy is the duck of choice in finer restaurants as it is prized for its lean meat and rich flavor. Of course, just like the chickens that we raise for meat this breed of duck also takes twice as long to reach market weight of about 8 pounds.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Muscovy does not quack like a duck. These ducks make quiet hissing sounds or breathy squeaks. They have amazingly large feet and sharp claws which enable them to perch in trees or on rooftops. And they have a face you will never forget. Wart-like growths called caruncles surround their beaks and eyes. Most of the ducks we are familiar with are Mallard derivatives. We have two ducks that fill that bill(pun intended). One of them is Campbell, a gift from Sarah and Conner (not to be confused with Sarah Connor of The Terminator) of Diggin Roots Farm. Campbell has been raised with the chickens and has been a good egg layer until recently. Our most recent addition is Norman the Duck who may be a story unto himself one day.

We raised 16 ducks this year with the intention of butchering 13 of them. Three lucky ones will get the chance to breed. We butchered 6 of of them a few weeks ago with the help of three guests that wanted a hands-on farm experience. We are always happy to show guests how their food gets from farm to table. By unanimous agreement, the next 7 ducks will get processed by a professional. It was the plucking that did us all in. Even scalding and paraffin was of little help.

You can expect to see duck making an appearance on our menus in the coming year, most notably as duck confit in cassoulet.

Laura Morgan first grade teacher extraordinaire
3 day old Muscovy Duckling

Muscovy Ducks

16 week old Muscovy Ducks

Plucked Duck

Muscovies perched on the roof of the chicken coop

Khaki Campbell

Khaki Campbell

Norman the Duck

Norman the Duck

What is your experience with duck? Have you raised them? Plucked them? Have you ever eaten Muscovy Duck?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Perfect French Toast

Whenever we go to a bed and breakfast inn, we have high expectations for breakfast. I don't necessarily expect something exotic and it certainly does not need to look like 10 chefs got together to assemble it. We like common dishes prepared uncommonly well. That is the criteria we use here at Crippen Creek when we plan meals for our guests.

We start with the best local ingredients possible and then prepare it with heart and soul. Whenever I am dissatisfied with a particular dish, it sets me on a search for a better technique or recipe. That was the case with French Toast. For months now I have been searching for the Perfect French Toast. My criteria for French Toast consists of thick slices of bread saturated in a sweet batter, a golden and slightly crispy exterior with a moist custard-like interior. The finished product should fall somewhere short of bread pudding.

Most recipes call for some sort of hearty French or Italian bread but I find their
crust to be too tough and the crumb too chewy. After all we are trying to come close to the bread pudding stage.

My internet search became a daunting task. Lacking the time and resources of America's Test Kitchen, I needed to become proficient at perusing a recipe and deciding whether a particular recipe might fit the bill. After dismissing hundreds of recipes, I bookmarked several that seemed to have potential.

There was one in particular that called to me and I finally got around to trying it out last weekend. Voila! The Perfect French Toast! I discovered the recipe on a blog called Breakfast At Tiffany's.

She calls it Coast Toast and near as I can tell, it comes from a restaurant in La Jolla, CA known as The Brocton Villa Restaurant.

I followed the recipe exactly except for the bread. Our friend Jon Peterson is fond of saying, "there's not a lot of traffic on the highway of the 'extra mile'." So we went the extra mile and made brioche, which turned out to be the absolutely perfect bread for French Toast. Here is the recipe for the French Toast and if enough readers post a request for the brioche recipe, I will do a future blog on that.

A Golden Loaf of Homemade Brioche


batter soaked brioche

Brioche French Toast with maple syrup

Brioche French Toast
Brioche French Toast with a custard-like interior

But what about you? What qualities do you like in French Toast and do you have a favorite restaurant that makes a great French Toast?

Monday, October 5, 2009

How To Weigh A Pig

Don't be too hasty to dismiss this post as useless information. We never dreamed that we would need to know this but here we are needing to weigh our pigs and without a scale. It wasn't so bad when we first got them. Pick them up and guesstimate their weight at about 35 pounds.

35 lb. weaner pig

But what do you do when they get to this size?

First, you have to measure their girth.

Then you measure their length.

So here's the formula: girth x girth x length divided by 400 = the weight.
This particular pig had a girth of 46 inches and a length of 50 inches putting it's approximate weight at 265lbs. That's a good market weight and so at this very moment these dear creatures are on their way to hog heaven.

dressed and ready for the butcher for cutting and wrapping

That's all we will be raising and processing this year so if you missed out and are interested in half of a pig next year, let us know and we will put you on the list for next Spring. Till then you will have to settle for coming out to Crippen Creek for pork dinner.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autumn Leaves

"The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold."
-Johnny Mercer

The first day of Autumn made a grand appearance yesterday. The sugar maples are turning.

The orb weavers have set up shop on the garden fence.

The pumpkins are ripening.

I think Squashzilla the 37 lb. Hubbard Squash is ready.

Early autumn is such a schizophrenic time of year. On a beautiful day like this, all the outdoor chores of mowing, woodstacking and weeding call but all of that great harvest that you worked so hard for all summer has to be put up. No wonder farmers raised such large families. Extra harvest hands are always welcome. We will make it worth your while.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Garden Update

Country living has presented us with many challenges and high on that list of challenges is gardening. When we are perusing the seed catalogs in January, it's easy to get carried away with visions of a garden that could feed a small town and end up ordering more seeds than we could ever hope to plant. As planting time draws near it takes a great deal of resolve to resist planting too early when it feels like Spring is here. Last year we boasted of growing prize winning eggplant, a feat that would be all but impossible without our hoophouse. Oh that wonderful hoophouse that was going to give us a head start on this year's garden, was destroyed by a January snowstorm. So we rebuilt it in early Spring only to have a sudden windstorm destroy it 3 days later. We are hoping that the 3rd time is a charm. We are pleased to report that the hoophouse is holding up and this year's garden looks like our best yet in spite of getting off to a late start. We have harvested a few tomatoes, over 100 pounds of potatoes and several batches of the best looking basil we have ever grown. The eggplant is prolific. The strawberries were sweet and plentiful. The garlic was dismal and we have not figured out why. The tomatillos were a bust. Who knew that you needed two plants? The broccoli raab came and went too quickly but escarole is coming on strong. This is definitely our best looking garden to date and Kitty has done it almost single-handedly.

Garden 2009


Escarole (Italian soul food)

Green Beans ready for the freezer



Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese

And how did your garden fare this year? Do you have any good tips on growing garlic?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,
those days of soda and pretzels and beer."
-Nat King Cole

We have certainly had our share of hazy and crazy days this summer, but not many lazy ones. Summer is always a busy time with gardening, raising chickens and pigs and hosting guests. This summer we have been especially priveleged to host a number of Elderhostel guests. Elderhostel is a non-profit organization that offers adventure and educational programs world wide. It's also proof positive that there is life after 50. We found our guests to be intelligent, fit and enthusiastic about life and learning new things. One of those programs, Kayaking the Lower Columbia, takes place right here in Skamokawa. After a hearty breakfast every morning, the guests head out for an adventure with some of the best kayak guides in the country from Columbia River Kayaking.

At the end of the day, the guests return to the inn for dinner followed up by an evening program that might include a demonstration of primitive tools used by the Chinook Indians or a fantastic musical program related to the Lewis and Clark adventure.
As long as we are talking about kayaking we need to take a moment for shameless self-promotion and direct you to a wonderful article in, believe it or not, Forbes Magazine on The Forgotten Columbia River.

Here's a few photos of the many wonderful guests and evening programs we have enjoyed this summer.

Music from the Lewis and Clark Trail

Primitive tools of the Chinook

Have you ever been on and Elderhostel program? What did you think of it? There's still room for the September program.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Too Cute For Words

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sweet Irony or Logical Conclusion?

Is it sweet irony or just living life to its logical conclusion when a retired cop becomes a pig farmer? As I ponder that question I find it a bit amusing that the phrase "pig pile" was a part of my vocabulary as a young policeman and has now made a reprise in my new career. Then, it referred to a number of cops piling onto a suspect that did not want to go peaceably. Now, the meaning is more literal and refers to the natural tendencies of young pigs to lie close together for warmth. It is also ironic that calling someone a pig is used so derisively as these animals are undoubtedly the cleanest (though you wouldn't know it to look at them), most intelligent and most lovable of all the barnyard animals. Not to mention the tastiest.

pig pile

At any rate, we love raising pigs and this years' batch is now available to order by the half or the whole at $3.50 per pound hanging weight. A $100 deposit is required to confirm your order. Additionally, you pay the butcher $.55/lb for cutting and wrapping. They will be harvested around mid or late October and will be processed at Butcher Boys in Vancouver,WA. They cure the hams and bacon without nitrites. And of course we raise them humanely, naturally and without chemicals.

Our guests love watching the pigs frolic, wallow and root. Some even love to get in the pen and help with the feeding. One recent guest could easily be dubbed the "pig whisperer" for her ability to charm them. It took me a couple of weeks to get them to warm up to me. But then again she is prettier than me and smells better.

The Pig Whisperer

Have any of you ever raised pigs? Do you have some stories to share? Have you tasted pasture raised pork ? The meat is denser and more pink in color rather than being "the other white meat."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spring Chinook

The treasures of the Pacific Northwest are many indeed and high on that list is the coveted Spring Chinook commonly known as "Springers" here on the Lower Columbia River or King Salmon by neighbors to the North. The Spring Chinook season is well over but just a couple of days before it ended I kiddingly asked my friend, Ed Shrock (a very avid fisherman) when he was going to catch me a "Springer." He not so kiddingly told me to go out and get a license and he would teach me how to catch my own Springer. So I did what he said, and he did what he said. I think Ed realized the good luck value of a beginner.

fishing for Spring Chinook on the Lower Columbia River

Preparing the fish was the next challenge but fortunately Spring Chinook seems to be almost foolproof due to its high oil content. So here is a recipe for Spring Chinook with Salmoriglio Sauce. This Sicilian sauce, known in Sicily as sammurigghiu is a delicious finish for any fish and even a grilled steak.

Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce
(inspired by Marcella Hazan)

2 pounds of fish fillet
white vinegar
sea salt
lemon juice
1/3 cups dried bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Pour a little vinegar over the fish fillets, then rinse them under cold, running water. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and arrange them on an ovenproof baking dish. Rub a little salt over the skinless sides of the fillets and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Spread the bread crumbs over the fillets and drizzle them with the olive oil. Cover and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the fish until just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer the fish to a platter. Pour the salmoriglio sauce over the fish fillets and serve.

Salmoriglio Sauce

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh oregano
6 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

Pour the olive oil into a bowl and slowly whisk in the lemon juice and hot water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped oregano, parsley and garlic. Warm the sauce slightly and pour over cooked fish or steaks.

Spring Chinook with Salmoriglio Sauce

And just for good measure, we preceded this meal with another Northwest treasure, Linguine con Cozze (Linguine with Penn Cove Mussels).

Linguine con Cozze

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picking Up Chicks In Skamokawa

It's easy to pick up chicks in Skamokawa and the best place to do that is at the post office. Here's how it works. First, you find a hatchery that has the kind of chicks you want and place your order. About 2 days after they ship them, the post office calls you and tells you to come in a pick up your baby chicks.

We ordered 50 red broilers from J.M. Hatchery in New Holland,PA. These red broilers are derived from heritage breeding stock and meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge free-range program. Their natural behaviors and instincts have been preserved resulting in a slower growing, more flavorful, and arguably more nutritious chicken. The typical chicken that you buy in the grocery store is a Cornish cross that has been bred for quick growth often resulting in chickens that can't support their own weight and often have heart attacks.

Red broilers are the perfect chicken to use in recipes like Chicken Ossobuco, Chicken Cacciatore, Coq au Vin or any recipe requiring a slow braise method.

Our red broilers will be available for harvest around the first week of August. Just call (360)795-0585 or email us at to order. Of course you won't be picking up chicks because by then they will be hens or roosters.

Have you ever experienced one of these heritage breeds? Have you noticed how agribusiness has conditioned our palate to a bland mushy bird under the guise of being tender?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
-Nelson Henderson

What are the chances that I will ever sit in the shade of this tree?

Today is Earth Day but we celebrated last week by enrolling in our local Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program(CREP) and planted 1000 trees along the riparian zone of Crippen Creek as part of an ongoing conservation effort.

This program offers funding to farmers and ranchers to help conserve priority salmon stocks.While many landowners find themselves reluctant to enter into any agreements with a government agency, we do not find ourselves so fearful. Our experience thus far in working with our local conservation district has been a very positive experience. Sometimes government gets it right.

While alder trees are readily abundant adjacent to the creek, conifers are conspicuously absent. Douglas Firs, Hemlock, Spruce, Port Orford and Western Red Cedar now dot the riparian zone along Crippen Creek.
Planting them was no picnic as the rain and hail were coming down sideways on the day we planted them. But the real challenge now is managing them and protecting them from voles, beavers, deer and elk.

Let the planting begin

For all of you tree huggers that missed out on the planting, we have a thousand weed barrier mats to lay around the trees. Let us know if you want to help. Fun, food and drink are guaranteed!