My Love Affair With Montana, Continues

DSC_6564“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“I’m in love with Montana.” C.D.D. 

My Subaru is loaded with the essentials … tripod, cameras, lens, notebook, map, and GPS. Oh, and a backpack with a few clothes and other essentials. So off I go, heading east over the Continental Divide to my road trip hub for a few days and nights–the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks.

The Sac was built in 1910 to service tourists traveling through on the railroad. Now on the Register of Historic Hotels, this white clapboard beauty is pure bliss. So when I got a call to come stay and review it, naturally I said “yes!”.

The lovely covered front porch is lined with white rocking chairs, scattered wool throws for guest use, and season appropriate floral arrangements. Greeted with a smile and a glass of chilled champagne, I am escorted to my room on the third floor. Up the original wooden stairway, past hall windows and the rustic wood doors of other guest rooms.

 

 

Barely taking the time to drop my things off, I hustle out to capture the late afternoon golden hour for some photos.

 

My first stop is Willow Creek. I’ve been wanting to stop by the Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon. One of my favorite reads is BLIND YOUR PONIES by a wonderful Montana author, Stanley Gordon, who features the town of Willow Creek in this courageous story.

Although the cafe is not yet open for business, I love driving the main street with passages from the book playing out in my imagination. But I don’t have time to dawdle for I’ve stopped dozens of times to enjoy the scenery along the Old Yellowstone Trail and am due back for dinner reservations at The Sac’s famous Pompey Grill.

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I can’t wait to return another time to splurge on Chef Matt’s famous 3-course dinners!

I finally get to snuggle into my beds luxurious crisp linens, after the sun has disappeared past the Tobacco Root Mountains to the West, deeply satisfied by wanderlust.

I slept my normal 4 hours, awake for 2, sleep for 4 more, odd schedule. Impressed by the absolute lack of noise by guests or street, I opened my window to enjoy some brisk autumn air as I stood gazing out over the sleeping town of Three Forks before returning to bed and meditating on sleep in the middle of the night.

One of the highlights of my stay at the Sacajawea Hotel is the complimentary breakfast-in-bed option. Especially for a lone-traveler, its just so relaxing to eat in suite, as I putz around preparing for my day.

Today I’m off to Pony, Montana! Settled in 1916, Pony was a prosperous gold-mining town. Today there are a number of historic buildings remaining in this town located on the edge of the Tobacco Root Mountains. Since leaving my beautiful Bitterroot Valley, I’ve been suffering with October fever in needing some rich fall foliage to satisfy. And satisfy it does!

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Off the beaten path, the highway to Pony diminishes down to a dirt road once you’re through the town.

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I spent several hours wandering each street of this charming little town, photographing and listening to some of its historic tales. Faint wood smoke from a nearby chimney, the crowing of a rooster and the clucking of hens all added to the ambiance of my visit.

 

I took over 200 photos here–so I’m being very selective about the ones I’ve chosen to show you! Many more shots are found on my Instagram feed–Montana Carole / Divineview Photography.

It’s hard for me to backtrack–leaving the way I arrived–so I found the most-used dirt road and started following it south. Before long I was able to wave down a passing farm truck–a local who surely could give me some good directional advice!

Local ranchers, the Brownson’s, were friendly and helpful as they explained a route to me, taking me up and over the mountains on a dirt road, eventually coming out on the South Boulder Creek highway just 11 miles to the west. (He quizzed me about my all-wheel drive as he carefully checked out the condition of my tires). “It’s a steep road” he said. “I’m a Montana girl and am used to it” I assured him. “It looks like snow” he said. “Yes, and I’m cautious about not wanting to get into any trouble.” “Well. We’ll be heading back this way a bit later. I’ll take a run up there just to make sure you aren’t in any trouble.” Like a protective grandpa, he wished me luck as we drove apart.

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VbarR Ranch

Yes, the weather did spit some snow, but not too much.  I passed cattle, sagebrush, aspen groves, rocky crags, stunning vista’s, rutted mud, a few old homesteads, a surprising University of Indiana research station and lots of mule deer during my wonderful cross-country trek.

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As I pulled out onto the South Boulder Creek road, a snow-squall hit with a furry, blowing the golden Cottonwood leaves off the trees and across my path. Again I stopped so many times to simply enjoy the grand October nature minutes. To enjoy the wild beauty of this wonderful state of mine. To bask in the sweet satisfaction of my hearts love cup, now filled-to-the-brim with October and Montana.

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My First Food Photography Contest!

DSC_6023A good friend sent me the link to a food photography contest with encouragement for me to enter it, combined with lots of compliments on my food photography. I went to the website, read the rules, and jotted a note in on my calendar to fit this challenge in before the end of the month deadline.

Let me tell you a little about this unusual and oft times stressful September I’ve had.  First of all, my sweet, little community has been bombarded with forest fire, smoke, soot, and ash since mid-July. Twice, I’ve been ordered to evacuate my home–mandatory–within 10 minutes. The first time it was for 12 days. The second time it was just for an afternoon. But I’ve lived with the evacuation warning threat for over a month.

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From my front porch, September 3

I don’t know if you’ve ever been charged with deciding what possessions are the most important to you but its a very hard thing to do. Especially if you’re at all like me–not a hoarder–but a collector of fine things. Until recently I had a wonderful vintage store where I sold the unusual and treasured home and garden collectibles. Naturally I’ve kept the things that I just couldn’t part with. I’m also a watercolor artist so my walls are filled with a lifelong collection of moody sepia toned cowboys, horses, and cattle drives.

And as a mom, I’ve got three kids worth of treasures, and a grandchild’s treasures–gifts to me that their little hands have fashioned and created. Of course, the usual can’t leave behind items, like photograph albums, grandma’s cookbook, grandpa’s pocket watch and hundreds of other family heirlooms.

Did I mention my antique classics book collection? Leather bound, many first editions?

And I’m trying to make time to enter this great food photography contest!

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As I first realized the threat, back when the forest fire was just thick smoke looming up from behind the mountains near our home, I made a rational and reasonable list of the treasures I would take. But each hour of each day found me adding to the ‘can’t live without this’ growing pile of boxes. I debated on just packing up my whole house except for the easy-to-replace things like the printer, table lamps, and canning jars. Reason won as I gave myself the mature-toned voice of “everything’s replaceable” speech.

All’s well that ends well–my house didn’t burn, though the beautiful forest in the mountains around me are ruined for many generations to come. And I’ve spent the past week trying to move four pickup loads of valuables back in. Did I mention I had a huge yard sale at a friends house last weekend? There’s a few boxes of remnants from that fiasco–things she had that I decided I needed. (I’m really just a collector, not a hoarder!)

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My beautiful Rocky Mountains with layers of burn from the forest fire

Then my son fell from a ladder, broke his wrist bones in multiple places, requiring surgery. So I volunteered to be his nurse and driver for a few days.

I work managing two vacation rental homes–both of which are closing down for the season last week and next. Packing, moving, cleaning. Two. Houses. Maybe I kept a few collectible things, but not as much as I could have!

During this month I’ve also gone camping for 3 nights, attended one funeral, had two crowns replaced on my teeth, had 6 girlfriends for a sleep over party, made it to my masseuse once, physical therapy twice, and oh yes, my lawn mower and pickup truck both broke. We had our first snow already–I won’t even get started on what preparations   are needed for this weather phenomenon. (It put out the fires! Yay!)

And I’m entering a photo contest!

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Today the sun came up over a bright blue sky. Through my soot covered windows, as I appreciated the warm, bright beams of light, I decided that the time was right for me to do the set up for my photo entry.  Did I think about going back to review the rules? No. Never even entered my foggy brain. I’d already made the #cutthecheese2017 sign and laid out my favorite trendy cutting board. But now I removed the grapes I’d laid on it a week or so ago, because they were too shriveled to merit tasty food quality photography.

Grabbing my salami and a few cheeses left-over from my camping trip, a few plums scored at Farmers Market this morning, and some my sweet vintage silver, I quickly fashioned a lovely cutting board vignette. Moving it around from counter, to coffee table, to dining table to capture the best sunlight and shadows, I took about 30 photos from various angles, heights, and settings.

The phone rang–my mom wanting to chat. As I transitioned to daughter talking to her mom, I remember making the semi-conscious decision that I was finished with the photo contest shoot, and could now proceed to eat my beautiful arrangement. It was, after all, past noon.

Slipping my camera’s memory card into my Mac, I opened the website for the John Boos Cutting Board Food Photography Contest to upload my best photo. Opps. Now I remember! I was supposed to take a documenting photo of me shooting the food photos! And I was encouraged to take a few shots of my set up to help other would-be-food-photographers learn. Well I certainly messed this one up! No more food, no more wonderful light, and no more time to do it again.

So the lesson I’d like my readers and food-photographer students is this; Review the directions before disassembling your model. And stay focused on the job rather than talk to your mother. It might also help if you eat before the shoot so the temptation from your stomach doesn’t over-power your brain.

I’ll submit my photo because I really need to tell my friend that I did what I said, and entered the contest.

Thanks cuttingboard.com and John Boos cutting boards for putting on this fun contest. I’d be thrilled (and floored) if I won, but who knows … they did suggest humor and my harried, over-wrot, weary self took them seriously without intending to.

Here’s to a relaxed October with no stress. Cheers!

I shoot RAW with my Nikon D810 camera, using my 50 mm lens, and my Manfrotto tri-pod. I shoot in my home using natural light. I do not own reflectors or bouncers or a light box, though if I win this contest, those will be quickly purchased!

As my blog intro explains, I’ve been passionate about photography since I was a young girl. As my blog attests, I love to cook (and eat) and photograph food as I journey through this fun life.

I hope you’ll consider following my Instagram feed — Montanacarole as I’d love to meet you and see what you’re up to as well! And I encourage you to enter this contest also … but you’ll need to act fast as there’s only 5 days left! Be sure to mention that I sent you!

https://www.cuttingboard.com/cutting-board-boos-contest

Cottage Tomato Soup with Toast

DSC_2715-2It’s the end of harvest time for garden produce! And with the extra-warm summer we’ve enjoyed here in Montana, this years tomato crop is abundant and affordable.

I’m a huge advocate for using seasonal produce to maximize freshness so this month’s recipe for my creamy tomato soup is no exception. Select fully sun-ripened tomatoes that are slightly soft to the touch. A mix-and-match of varieties adds flavors, though I much prefer the locally grown heirloom tomatoes I find at Farmers Market.

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While you’re shopping, be sure to buy some Montana grown yellow onion and basil (if you’re not lucky enough to have them growing in your own garden). And of course, a loaf or two of fresh baked bread!

With the crisp change of season into Autumn, the freshest garden vegetables at hand, and the unbeatable #1 favorite soup of American kids, you’ll find this nutritional and tasty soup the perfect choice for family dinner this month.

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Homemade Tomato Soup

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled, then diced
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 c. 1/2 n 1/2 cream
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
8 1” thick slices of french bread, buttered on both sides

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Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Place buttered bread slices on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 10 minutes. Set aside

In a large soup pan, over medium heat, add the oil, onion, and garlic and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock. Raise the heat to high and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup if you like it smooth. If you prefer chunky soup, eliminate this step. With the soup back in the pot, over low heat, add the cream and basil stirring well until the soup is hot again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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To serve, place a slice of your toasted bread to a soup bowl then gently ladle the soup on top. Garnish with sprinkles of parmesan cheese adding a basil leaf for a garnish.

Makes 8 servings.

As an alternative flavor option, add a few drops of your favorite red hot sauce or jalapeño pepper juice with the other ingredients during cooking for a spicy hot tomato soup!

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Good Eats!

DSC_3234Earlier this year,  I had opportunity and joy in joining a Dallas girlfriend for a springtime road trip through some wildflower strewn Texas hill country. We meandered down back roads, stopping at every food truck we could find. Easter dinner was a flavorful Crawfish Boil along the highway! IMG_8808

We enjoyed some amazing foods but the best of the best, was the watermelon slushy I bought from a food truck at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ MAGNOLIA MARKET in Waco.

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Me with my Waco Watermelon Slushy

Crisp flavor, refreshing coolness, and good old-fashioned watermelon flavored goodness through a straw! Mine was served in a mini-seedless watermelon. It was so delicious, I couldn’t wait to get home and make my own! I hope you’ll give it a try too! It’s on my menu for a colorful Red, White, and Blue 4th of July backyard BBQ.

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Because my guest list is large, I decided to try using a regular big sized watermelon, well chilled, rather than individual mini sized melons. I stood my watermelon on the flattest, most stable end—ensuring that it was balanced with no risk of tipping over. Then I took a long, sharp bladed knife and cut the top off. I wanted a hole large enough to easily insert my vintage ironstone serving ladle, to dish out the slushy into paper cups.

Then I removed an inch or so of the fruit from the inside of the melon, allowing me room to work and for the addition of more ingredients later. Plus, I didn’t want my slushy to be spilling over the edge once I inserted my immersion blender into the melon cavity.

With the immersion blender on high, I began to slowly and gently pulverize the melon’s fruity inside. Being careful not to cut into the rind or puncture it, I used the blender to scrape down the rounded sides, easily turning the firm flesh into mushy slush. This took about 15 minutes until my watermelon rind bowl was filled with beautiful slushy juices.

I then added ½ c of honey into 1 c of boiling water and stirred until it was dissolved. I let this cool, then added the sweetened water to the melon. I also squeezed in a few tablespoons of lime juice, to really make the watermelon flavor pop!

I kept the melon on a tray in the refrigerator until serving. I provided several additional flavor options for my guests to add to their individual glasses, like ginger ale, and Rose’ wine, if they wanted more of a wine cooler idea. (This watermelon slushy is a great base for fancy cocktails too, if that’s your party style) I found some fun, wide style, paper straws for us to use in slurping our slushies.

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My watermelon punch bowl was a big hit with my party guests. I hope you and yours will find it equally delightful!

Round ’em up for Cowboy Caviar

Montana has a rich western past, with endless trails and tales of cattle, cowboys, and camping. This yummy choice gives tribute to our past with a recipe that does double time as a salad or appetizer. Some call it “Cowboy Caviar”, while I like to call it a ‘must serve’ at every summer get together. It’s just that good!

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Cowboy Caviar

Mix the dressing together in a pint canning jar:

1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1 TBL fresh minced garlic

Put a lid on it, shake well, and set aside for a few days to let the flavors work their magic.

This is not a make-ahead dish, as the avocado’s will brown and the cilantro will wilt. So, 15 minutes or so before eating, prepare the salad part of this caviar.

In a glass, medium sized bowl, add 1 can (drained) of sweet corn and 1 can (drained) of your favorite bean. I’ve used white beans for this meal. DSC_4089Chop and add to the corn and beans, 2 large ripe tomatoes, 2 large ripe avocados, 1 bunch of fresh cilantro with stems removed, and 3 green onions.DSC_4090DSC_4093DSC_4081

Lightly mix the ingredients while slowly adding the dressing. Serve immediately over a few crisp lettuce leaves for a salad course, or with chips, as an appetizer salsa. The rich flavors and delightful crunch of corn make cowboys (and girls) coming back for more!

Serves 4 as a salad and 8 as an appetizer. It tastes amazing whether you’re sitting in the saddle, a deck chair, next to a campfire, or floating around the pool!

Joshua Tree National Park

Only slightly more than 1000 miles away from my home here in Montana, lies a small National Park in the heart of the Mohave desert of southeastern California. Franklin Roosevelt designated this area (without needing Congressional approval) a National Monument back in 1936. Congress changed its status in 1994 to that of a National Park.

The Joshua Tree is a unique and unusual plant and although this park is named after it, do not expect to see an abundance of Joshua Trees here, especially in the eastern half of the park. I carefully researched, then charted out my brief 16 hour stay on this, my maiden voyage to Joshua Tree, and was rewarded for my efforts.

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I entered the park from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, NW entrance. This is a very small, understaffed facility with limited parking lot and long lines of eager tourists like me, wanting to question a ranger, or to buy a souvenir. Not worth the time so just proceed into the park, stopping at the West Entrance Station to pay, retrieve your map, and ask a question or two.

Immediately you’ll find wonderful rock piles of huge boulders of every size and shape. Picturesque vistas abound! I was there in February so the park had not yet greened up but the day was a perfect blue-bird sky with just under 80 degrees temperatures, wonderful for hiking.

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One of the major attractions I was looking forward to was the walking tour of the Keys Ranch homestead. Nothing I read warned me to make a reservation in advance, so I was very disappointed to arrive at the gate finding it locked with signs warning me to stay away. It is rare to find cell phone service anywhere in the park, so I reluctantly turned around.

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Road to Keyes Ranch

Hidden Valley was a great stop with an easy 1 mile loop trail of walking among the rock formations and desert flora and fauna. More than anything, I hoped to spot a desert tortoise but did not. A lovely picnic area too.

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The color and shape of this boulder coincidently lined up giving the illusion of my sporting a third arm!

Transitioning from our below sea level elevation, we headed up to Keys View, at over 5000 feet, to overlook the valley, mountains, and desert below us. We could clearly see both the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Cooler temperature, somewhat windy, and with lots of people jockeying for the viewpoint, we did not stay long but headed back down to the desert floor and wide-open spaces!

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The roadway is curbed, with limited pull-outs. And the signs for various landmarks are typically only at the turnoff, giving no warning. (And no place to turn around and go back) My advice is to go slow and have a navigator with the map giving ample warning for upcoming attractions you’re wanting to see. I cannot imagine the chaos of being in this park on a crowded day. Seems like more than radiators would be boiling over.

I noticed a larger than normal Joshua Tree with a pull off across the roadway. It was only later, when viewing the photos, that the enormity of this tree was realized. There are no signs alerting passerby’s to this remarkable tree that is hundreds of years old. You see a Joshua Tree grows about 3″ per year for the first 10 years. The growth rate slows to half that for the remainder of its life, upwards of 1000 years. I think this tree was my most favorite thing to see in all of JTNP. And I hope you’re able to spot it too. I’d give you specific directions, but I don’t have any.

My second most favorite place in the park, was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Now, I did not have this on my “my do” list for the park, and only stopped here because it’d been a rather dull drive for 20 minutes or so, with nothing notable to see. (I mentioned to my companion that I pitied the people who entered from Cottonwood or Twentynine Palms visitors centers, going only on the north-south road. The most interesting and diverse sights in the park are on the road to the west of that north-south roadway. And if I had only driven that portion of the park, I would have been left wondering why anyone saw the importance of making this a park!

That being said, we arrived at the Cholla Cactus Gardens as the sun was slipping behind the western mountains. Although there were a lot of people out among the cacti, it was still a stunning sight to see. Erase from your thoughts any typical definition of “garden”. Mother Nature alone has planted and tended to this area, a wild-field of Cholla’s just barely starting the spring bloom. I think you’ll agree it was beautiful!

 

Once more, our road trip scenery became rather dull and monotonous as we continued south at the end of a perfect day of wandering. We stopped at the park exit, to see my first sight ever of a desert oasis. This area was closed off with an industrial strength chain-link fence (unable to find any angle for photographs that didn’t have the fence in it) to keep visitors out of the oasis. This wasn’t worth the stop. There are several other oasis in the area, like Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, well worth a side-trip.

Overall, I truly loved Joshua Tree National Park and was so happy for our decision to include it in our travel plans. I can’t wait to go back again for a more extended stay, and will definitely make reservations to tour the Keyes ranch–a good reason to go back! I hope to camp in the park next time, to witness sunrise and sunset over the giant rock formations, and to take some of the longer hikes.

And next time, I’ll try to make my trip in March, even though the temperatures will be hotter, the blooms should be on the desert plants, adding frosting to the cake of this delightful place.