Winter on the Homestead.

Here at the Light homestead, we are in the middle of the – ‘not-really-sure-what-to-do-around-the-house-because-one-second-it’s-raining-the-next-it’s-really-cold-and-getting-things-done-on-the-homestead-to-do-list-is-ultimately-*BREATH*-really-difficult-in-this-nasty-weather-and….” – in other words, it’s that time of year where I try to find every excuse in the book not to go work outside… because its raining/COLD… The part of this that doesn’t make sense is…  I don’t mind being in the misery if I’m fishing. How exactly DOES that work?

In the last few days of 2012: my wife and I made it back home from Spokane, laid her Grandfather to rest, spent quite a bit of time with extended family, had an opportunity to spend some quality time with good friends from the east coast, and with the events of the past couple weeks and a strong desire NOT to work on the homestead… I needed some time on the river. So I’ve been doing everything in my power with the two days left on my 2012 license to get some meat for the freezer.

One of the wonderful things about Oregon is that in addition to the temperate climate region which allows us to garden year round pretty easily without a lot of extra stuff, there are harvest opportunities available year round. I know that there are some homesteaders out there that are not into meat consumption, period… choosing to grow all of their own food on their land and living a vegetarian lifestyle, or at least a lacto-vegetarian, or ovo-vegetarian lifestyle. On our homestead we look at things a bit differently.

Shannon and I take issue with the industrialization of ‘food’, and I use those quotations lightly. The idea that the meat you pick up at the store is raised in large scale CAFO type operations full of antibiotics, with meat products and GMO corn in the feed is disturbing, not to mention seriously damaging our food supply. We don’t have a problem with a carnivorous lifestyle, in fact, we enjoy it… but we do want to ensure that what we take in has the least amount of industrialization/processing/adulteration/carcinogens/shards of metal and glass/rat poison/etc… my wife is REALLY good at this… I’m not. But that’s something I’m working on changing in my life. Trying to be better about avoiding processed foods and drinks, and sticking to natural foods. Looking at labels and avoiding the stuff I can’t pronounce. That stuff isn’t food. It’s chemicals.

The homestead mantra is Michael Pollan’s quote from Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Eat Food. Not A Lot. Mostly Plants. – Michael Pollan

As a result, as much as possible, we try to eat more plants than we do meat, but also we try to supplement our food that we grow here on the homestead or pick up at the local markets with natural options either by hunting or by plain old gathering (blackberries, nuts, etc..) Here in Oregon, we have big game hunting opportunities available to us; deer and elk, bird hunting – duck, goose, and turkey — as well as year-round fishing for the big boys… 2 different types of Salmon; Chinook and Coho, and the legendary Steelhead, and in the summer fresh albacore tuna.

The last couple days, I hit some of our coastal rivers in search of some of the ever elusive Steelhead. On the first day, my friend Dave and I banked it on one mid-coast river and weren’t able to rustle up much other than a cutthroat trout that we sent on its merry way. It was really slow, and we only saw a couple of fish caught. It was a beautiful day though, with the sun shining and the temperature warm, which was refreshing. However, “Mission: Fill the Homestead Freezer”… FIsh 1, Me 0.

Yesterday I had a trip lined up with my friend Matt Halseth, who recently got his guides license and started up his business. We’d been trying to line up a chance to fish with one another for a while now, and it finally panned out yesterday as he didn’t have clients. Along with another really cool guy Curtis, we put into another coastal river in the dark, and started downriver. It was crazy cold here in Oregon the last couple days. It got down below freezing, and within moments of heading downriver in the boat, I wasn’t sure if my toes had gone on strike, or had just simply died. They almost didn’t recover. Though, by cramming a couple of hand-warmers in the toe of my boot – all was well, until the hand-warmers quit working. The fishing was slow to begin with, and we didn’t touch a fish for the first 4 hours. But we didn’t let it get us down, we know we’d get em once the air temperature came up and the water warmed a bit. Around 11 it picked up quite nicely, and we picked up 5 fish in the next few hours. It wasn’t lights out fishing we really had to grind em out, but we had a great time, a lot of laughs, and ended up 5/5 on the day, with one beautiful native hen released to go her merry way. (Something that can’t be said for many of the other boats on the river…)

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4 keepers…

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One of which was a very good sized, very hot (peeled line like crazy) 12-14 pounder. (the girl on the left in the above picture) Here she is again…

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The guys decided they didn’t want to mess with their catches last night because of New Years Eve (we got back pretty late), and they transferred the meat to me, so I was able to put all four fish away last night instead of just the two I caught, so I was very thankful for that.

Probably managed to put away close to 20 pounds of fish when it was all said and done. Since sizes are deceptive without a frame of reference, the Forschner Scimitar fillet knife next to the fish is 17 inches from tip to tip.

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Tried a new smoked Salmon Brine, well, it’s not new, it’s an adapted version of our standard brine recipe. We like to keep it simple, and let the fish speak for itself. We were out of brown sugar last night, so we ended up adapting by using regular sugar and molasses… we’ll see. I don’t know that it will have quite the same taste… but I’ll let you know.

1/2 Cup Raw Sugar
1 TBS Molasses
1/4 Cup Kosher Salt
1 tsp Celery Seed

Mix the Raw Sugar and Molasses together to make a brown sugar substitute, add the salt and celery seed and mix well with a fork. Dissolve the mixture in warm water continuing to mix well with the fork. Pour over chunked fish in a non-reactive bowl, add cold water to cover fish. Let brine for 24 hours.

Smoke however you prefer. I typically will put it in the smoker until it looks done (anywhere from 6-12 hours depending on air temperature) with 2 pans of Alder chips. Turns it into candy.

I’m looking forward to putting a lot of fish away this coming year, both smoked and filleted, which is doable since the winter run of coastal Steelhead is just getting started, then come the Springers, then come the Summers, then the Fall’s…. but the winters are nowhere near their peak and it only gets better from here out. Seriously… give Matt a call. He’s a great guy, and really knows what he’s doing when it comes to catching fish. A real class act — if you’re thinking of getting out this year, send me an email and I’ll put you in contact with him…

After taking a couple days off, my to-do list today is about a mile long, and my cup of coffee excuse to be online is almost gone, so I’d better bring this to a close.

2012 is in the rear view, 2013 up ahead and the world is making resolutions… here on our homestead, we’ll keep on keeping on…

Cheers,
Ben

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