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Monday, January 13, 2014


I t has been a really long time since we have blogged.  Our last post ended on a dark note with the loss of our sheep but that’s not the reason for our long absence.  The real reason is simply that I succumbed to the convenience of quick and easy Facebook postings.  But recently some people reminded me that not everyone is on Facebook and that they actually miss reading the Chronicles.  So with the start of a New Year, I resolve to post more frequently with interesting and useful content.

So what has us so fired up? Quite simply…this.  Our wood-fired oven.



If you know anything about our passion for and history with bread and pizza baking, then you probably figured that at some point we would graduate to a wood-fired oven.  It was in 1974, while living in Omaha that we baked our first pizza.  A few beers had been consumed that evening but not so many as to prevent me from recalling the details of that venture.  Our friend, David Williamson  was helping out and  decided that we needed to throw the dough at the wall to see if it was ready. (Apparently he thought it was akin to that old adage about throwing pasta against the wall to see if it's ready.)  Deeming that it was, we stretched the dough into a pan, topped it, put it in the oven and waited with bated breath, all the while consuming more beer.  Twenty minutes later, the moment we had anxiously waited for arrived and we marveled with delight as I removed it from the oven.  Then, we watched in horror as it slipped off the pan and ended top side down on the floor!  By that time enough beer had been consumed to influence our judgment. We just scooped it up, put it back on the pan and figured that a few minutes in a hot oven would make everything ok.

T hat night was the first step in my quest for a better pizza.  It has been a delicious journey as we have experimented with different formulas, different flours, pans, baking stones and a variety of oven tricks and gimmicks to simulate a professional pizza oven.  For many years now we have served and enjoyed our Sicilian sheet pan pizza. 

 It’s not a NY thin crust  nor a Chicago deep dish but more of a focaccia  with traditional pizza sauce and toppings. Don’t get me wrong.  We are not abandoning “old faithful.”  She has fed us and our guests well over the years and brings comfort like a pair of old slippers.  What makes this pizza great is its taste, texture and accessibility.  This is the pizza that we teach in our Artisan Bread Baking Class so that anyone can have great pizza at home. 

B ut as the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life”.  And when the craving for a Neapolitan or NY slice comes on, with its’ crusty bottom and smoky charred blisters, nothing else will do.  Unless you live in a town with purveyors of such pizza then you do it yourself or do without.  
Visions of a backyard wood-fired brick oven have filled my head for years. It’s the Holy Grail for bread bakers.  But the costs, the time to build it, not to mention a lack of building skills have made that vision just a pipe dream.  In a recent Google search for wood–fired ovens I stumbled across this beautiful wood-fired oven.
A number of things intrigued me about it.  I loved the design and stainless steel seems like a good thing in our rainy climate.

It’s portable. I could move it to different areas on our property depending on the event.  Seems like it would be a natural next to the bocce court.

We could possibly transport it to your yard for a catered pizza event.

It’s made locally.  We met with Todd Millar, the creator of the oven at his home and shop in Yacolt, WA.  Todd is an amazingly talented and creative young man with a passion for excellence.  Not only does he produce wood ovens but espresso machines and wood roasted coffee beans. His coffee roasting earned him a write up in Saveur Magazine last year.  Oh and did I mention his awesome barley wine?  And if that’s not enough, I would be remiss in not mentioning Todd’s after-sales support.  That’s almost as important to me as a consumer as the product itself. 

It’s practically plug and play.  The only assembly required was the stand and for that we are grateful to Ed and Theresa Videan.  (You can bet they have some serious pizza points in their account.)

And now the real work begins.  We have to learn how to use the darn thing.  It’s not just flipping a switch and turning the temperature up and down as we please.  We have fired it up three times and realize there is a learning curve here.  It’s very interactive.  You can’t just throw a pizza in there and walk away from it.  It requires frequent rotation and repositioning, a good exercise in mindfulness.

N ow here’s the fun part and you are going to love this.  We need to practice.  Kitty and I cannot eat pizza every night and even if we could, it’s not practical to fire up the oven for just a couple of pizzas.  So, we are recruiting volunteers.  Volunteers that like to eat pizza and offer critical feed back.  Of course our disclaimer is that perfection is not guaranteed.  We have had two events so far.  We have received high marks for taste and quality but I have given myself low marks for pizza tossing,  work flow and wood  and heat management.

I f you would like to be a Volunteer Pizza Critic, here’s what you need to do.

  1. Leave a comment here on our blog.. Tell us about your favorite pizza.
  2. If you have a Facebook account and have not already done so, “Like” our Inn At Crippen Creek Farm Page.
  3. Send us an email to with a subject line “Volunteer Pizza Critic”. Make sure you include your name and phone number and of course none of that information will be shared, sold or otherwise distributed.

W e will run our tests in groups of 6-10 people for several weeks so get in on this before we get it mastered.  Meanwhile enjoy some pictures from our wood-fired adventures.

 Another new skill to learn

The apprentice

Artichokes and mushrooms

 Mushroom and Italian Sausage

 Spinach and Pancetta

 Pepperoni and onion

Pears and Gorgonzola


And it's not just for pizza and bread!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Dark Days of Farming

Until today, our blog has mostly been about the joys of running a Bed and Breakfast, attempting to tantalize you with mouth-watering recipes and entertain you with our comedic missteps as farmers and hopefully to educate you about where our food comes from. Today will be different. Today there will be no pictures of calorie laden food, of verdant bucolic pastures or irresistibly cute and fuzzy animals. Today will be a tale of sadness and the dark side of farming.

 “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.” That’s what the old timers told us when we first started farming 6 years ago. The matter in this case is losing livestock to predators. When arrived yesterday.

The day started like so many other days. We lingered over breakfast with our B&B guests, sharing stories of our adventures in farming. Ironically, we boasted of our luck about our minimal loss of livestock. There is always some sadness to finding a still-born lamb or losing a baby chick to a hawk but those are some of the givens that we fully expected would happen from time to time. We never even begrudged the idea of losing a chicken or two to a coyote as a “fair tax” for all the good they actually do, such as cleaning up carrion and controlling the population of smaller varmints such as moles, voles, and raccoons. A few years ago we did lose more than a chicken or two, not to a coyote or even a smaller varmint but to a couple of dogs that some irresponsible pet owner decided to get rid of by dumping them off at this end of the valley. If you have ever visited us, then you well know how free-ranging our chickens are. Our larger animals are in pastures “protected” by 8 joules of high tensile wire. We have often credited our low loss rate to the presence of our watchful German shepherd, Jessie.

While we visited with our guests, our son Mark, (aka Farm Boy) went about his morning chores. He fed and watered the chickens, milked the cow and subsequently processed the milk. After our guests had left, I was ready to help Mark with the project of the day…moving a large animal shelter into a pasture across the bridge. The sheep were grazing over there as well as Chuck Norris, our 7 month old calf that we recently separated from his mother Dottie, our Jersey cow. Mark immediately noticed something wrong with one of Chuck’s eyes. From a distance it looked like something was in his eye but a closer inspection revealed that his eyelid had been torn loose and was hanging in front of his eye. I will spare you any photographs today. Suffice it to say it was not a pretty sight. Standing in disbelief, we speculated about what could have happened, and then I turned my eyes to the sheep and counted only six. There should be ten. We looked in every corner of the pasture but our four baby lambs were nowhere to be found. We did find some wool on a low strand of barbed wire indicating that something had chased them under the fence. Kitty combed the adjacent woods looking for a carcass and some footprints from perhaps a coyote or a cougar, but could not discern anything more than hoof prints from elk and deer. Some neighboring farmers speculate that it was most likely a cougar. I guess that makes sense as a coyote most likely would have investigated the fence with his nose and received quite a jolt. A cougar on the other hand could easily have climbed a tree and dropped in. I also cannot imagine a coyote going up against a 400 pound steer but then what do I know? The answer will probably remain a mystery. The question now is how to prevent or at least minimize future loss. Soon, nine piglets will be reared in that pasture as well, so we have much to protect. Any suggestions from veteran farmers are welcome.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Farm Photo

Striper (the cat), loves Dottie especially when she comes into the barn for milking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Farm Boy learns the art of making fresh pasta

Learn how to make ravioli

Learn how to cook pasta perfectly

Do you ever find yourself longing to put on a great dinner party but daunted by what it takes to pull it all together? Does the idea of baking fresh bread at home sound like a great idea only to find yourself mystified by the process? Perhaps you are already a great cook but are in need of some fresh ideas. Well, we think The Inn At Crippen Creek Farm has something to offer each of you. We offer classes and recipes in Italian Country Cooking that will wow your guests and amaze yourself at how easy they are to prepare. After one of our Artisan Bread Baking classes your home kitchen will smell like a world class bakery and you will never have to have soggy pizza again. Learn the secrets of great pasta and how to make the infamous "Sunday Gravy" even better than Carmella Soprano.

Click here for our schedule of cooking classes for 2012. We'll be adding more soon and are looking for suggestions from you. How about a class in Southern cooking and learn to make the best fried chicken ever? Or a charcuterie class and learn how to make fresh Italian Sausage, or cure bacon and pancetta? Get your own group together and we will customize a class for you. Meanwhile enjoy some pictures from our some of our classes.

Making Croccantini

Goat Cheese and Olives

Sunday Gravy, The Big Ragu

Artisan Bread Class

Homemade Pizza


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Stockings Were Hung

It was 13 years ago that Kitty stitched in needlepoint the first Christmas stocking for our family. This week she completed her seventh stocking. Each stocking has approximately 3000 stitches and countless hours. If that, in and of itself isn't amazing, consider that when she started that first stocking, Kitty was in a battle for her life against melanoma. It did not seem possible that she would ever complete the first stocking let alone seven of them and plans to start on one for our grandson Luca for next year. There will never be room for any coal in these stockings because they are already overflowing with love, hope and gratitude. We wish each of you the happiest of holidays and a New Year filled with the gifts that truly matter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

French Onion Soup

"Only the pure of heart can make good soup."

Is there anything more comforting on these frigid days than a bowl of piping hot soup? It's probably fair to say that whatever soup I happen to be eating is my favorite soup of that moment. But truly at the top of my list has to be French Onion Soup. We have had several requests for the recipe after posting a picture of it on Facebook, so here is my favorite version from a book called Taste by David Rosengarten.
The best we have ever enjoyed in a restaurant was at The French Cafe in Omaha, Nebraska.


Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ pounds of yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin
Large pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons of flour
4 cups of beef stock
½ cup of dry white wine
Cheesecloth bag containing 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 12 parsley sprigs, 8 peppercorns, and 1 bay leaf
6 slices day-old crusty French baguette (enough to cover the surface of each soup bowl), cut 1 inch thick
1 large clove garlic, halved
½ cup finely minced onion
2-3 tablespoons of cognac or brandy
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. Place the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over moderately low heat. Add the onions, and toss them with the sugar. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally until soft. Uncover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
2. Add the flour, and cook, stirring for 30-60 seconds. Add the stock, wine, cheesecloth bag, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook, partially covered, skimming off fat occasionally, for 40 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange the slices of bread on a baking sheet; brush both sides with melted butter, season with salt and pepper and bake, turning once, for 15 minutes, or until golden and firm. Rub each slice with the cut garlic.
4. Transfer the soup to individual oven proof crocks, each 4-5 inches across the top. Stir the minced onion and cognac into each crock, dividing evenly. Cover the soup with bread slices, fitting 3 slices into each crock so they cover as much of the surface as possible. Lay the slices of Gruyere over each crock, letting the cheese hang over the sides of the crocks. Sprinkle with grated cheese and drizzle with a little melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.
5. Run the crocks under a preheated broiler until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned. Bon appetit!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where did Summer Go?

“Summer is kind of like the ultimate one-night stand: hot as hell, totally thrilling, and gone before you know it.”
-unknown source

At first it seemed that summer would never arrive here in the Northwest. The rain was relentless leaving us with a muddy garden that was too wet to plant. It was June before we could get anything in the ground and it had all the makings of a green tomato year. We finally managed to get two hoop houses up and Kitty worked diligently to get our hot weather crops and watering system in while I cobbled together some raised beds for the outer garden. While folks in the East and South suffered oppressive heat, we were teased with only 2-3 days in a row of sunshine only to have the rain return for several days. It was August before any semblance of summer actually arrived. Here it is fall already and lo and behold we are harvesting our best garden crops since we moved here. Tomatoes are actually ripening and they are some of the best we have ever tasted. Bell peppers have always been difficult to grow here even in a hoop house and this year they are prolific and huge. It looked like the eggplant was never going to produce and now it’s all we can do to keep up with it. Here's a photographic look at this year's bounty. We will devote the next few postings to sharing ideas and recipes for using our bounty.

So how did your garden grow and what preservation tips do you have to share?