morel prosciutto asparagus pizza thai sticky rice and mango pheasant and morel vols au vent strawberry butter


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archive for April 2017

oysters on oysters

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Recipe: broiled oysters with oyster mushroom ragout

It’s May 1. Again. I actually love this time of year when we start to see the faintest hints of green in the mountains and the pasque flowers are adding splashes of lavender where there were only the browns of a winter-ravaged landscape before. Down on the flats, the flowering trees are in the second act of their show and everyone has a bounce in their step because it FEELS like real spring. But May 1 is also the day I lost my sister, so it’s a bittersweet time. I started out buying flowers in remembrance on this day over a decade ago. They were for her, but over the years I have come to understand that they are for her and for me – a gentle balm for this sorrow deep in my chest.


for kris… and for me



Jeremy was on travel for the first half of last week, so it was just the girls – me and my little Neva. I made sure to take her out for her training and fetch sessions before it started snowing mid-week, and on our walk home Monday evening, she was attacked by another dog on our neighborhood trail. It was one of those situations where both dogs were pulling to greet each other and then the other dog (who was twice her size) suddenly jumped on Neva and bit her twice before I could beat it off and its owner wrestled it to the ground. Ugh. I was so upset with myself and that idiot dog owner (because he knew his dog was aggressive). Luckily, Neva didn’t have any open wounds and only lost a few tufts of her hair. The look she gave me when she cried out broke my heart. I held her and comforted her as I checked her over, but she was over it within a couple of minutes and back to her happy-go-lucky self. I don’t drink, but I could have used one.

my snuggle buddy



It was also the week of Erins. Over a decade of living in the mountains has turned this former social butterfly into a bit of a recluse. I used to put up with a lot of drama and crap from people who sucked the energy out of me, but I’ve stopped engaging with toxic individuals and life is infinitely better without the bullshit. I like my time alone, or with my dog, or with my guy, or in the mountains away from other people. And I like my one-on-one time with good friends I love and trust – like Erin and Erin.

meeting up with denver erin at t|aco for a hosted lunch

hunting and scoring giant, gorgeous oyster mushrooms with mountain erin



To cap off the week, we got snow, and quite a nice bit of it! It seems that the only people who are never surprised and/or upset by mid-spring snowfall are the folks who backcountry ski and ride the stuff. It is not uncommon, it just works against conventional thinking which is based on some unrealistic expectation from other geographical locations. No, we are WAITING for it. It feeds our souls. Saturday brought a good 18 inches to our local backcountry, so Jeremy and I skinned up to get some turns in the very fluffy, very mid winter blower powder. If you had told me it was February, I would not have have questioned it.

so so so so so happy!

jeremy hoofs it up for another lap

jeremy can’t get enough of the pow pow



Saturday was our fun day, and Sunday was Neva’s fun day. The storm cleared out overnight and Sunday morning was blue skies and sunshine. We took Neva out early before the snow slopped up with rising daytime temperatures. Our expectations were low, because it’s Neva, and she had been cooped up in the house for a couple of days. But you know what? She was the best she has EVER been in the backcountry. She wasn’t perfect (far from it), but she didn’t pull nearly as much and she looked up at Jeremy every few steps. She encountered lots of other skiers, snowshoers, dogs, and distractions and she was a pretty good girl. We still work with her daily on basic training and focus, and I think it is finally translating to the backcountry. The best part? She had a great time. Yay Neva!

looking to jeremy

putting her best paw forward



Going back to that great big beautiful perfect oyster mushroom that mountain Erin was holding in the photo… we foraged that and several other equally perfect oyster mushrooms standing in cold-ass water above our knees, carefully dodging poison ivy stalks, random thorns, and barbs on barbed wire fences. It was cold enough that we brushed ice off of the mushrooms before dropping them into our bags. I’ve always considered oyster mushrooms to be second class citizens to the likes of porcini, chanterelles, and morels. However, the more I find them, the more I love them. Sure, they don’t have superstar status, but they are beautiful, and fun to forage, and delicious. The night before I met with Erin to go foraging, I thought – wouldn’t it be great to make something with oyster mushrooms and oysters? Yes, it would be so great.

oyster mushrooms, thyme, oysters, lemon, egg, butter, bacon ends, salt, shallot, garlic, olive oil, black pepper (not pictured: dijon mustard)

prepped



The recipe has three components: raw oysters on the half shell, an oyster mushroom ragout, and an aioli. I had to replace the aioli from the original recipe with a different version because it turned into a watery mess. That might be because I halved the recipe, but the second version worked perfectly. For the ragout, you can use any edible mushroom, but I do suggest a mushroom with good flavor (not white button mushrooms). And you don’t have to buy bacon ends, you can use thick-sliced bacon instead since it all gets diced up. As for the oysters, there are places that will shuck them for you, but I prefer to shuck my own oysters. Both the aioli and the ragout can be made ahead of time.

smash salt and garlic into a rough paste

whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, and dijon mustard together

whisk in a thin drizzle of olive oil until thick

stir in the garlic mash



**Jump for more butter**

at last the april showers

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Recipe: chinese shrimp and sizzling rice

When I hear a weather forecast on the radio for “a beautiful day”, I already know they mean sunshine and warm temperatures, because our society has got something against rain and snow and cold. But I have lots of good reasons for loving precipitation! The most obvious is the skiing, but recreation aside, our snow pack and rainstorms provide much-needed insurance against out-of-control wildfires in the mountains as well as water for all of the flat-landers downstream. Other bonuses include mushrooms (oh, the mushrooms!), wild berries, and wildlife that rely on moisture to survive and thrive. Don’t forget those stunning wildflower displays at the height of summer, or refreshing waterfalls and alpine lakes that are a joy to hike. Besides, rainy days make sunny days all the more delicious.

So yes, we are getting some belated April showers, at last! Sometimes it falls as snow, sometimes it falls as rain. At this point, I am happy with either one. Sure, I’d love a few more backcountry ski days, but I’m already four weeks into my trail running season. I could go either way and it’s all good. The longer days also mean more time for outdoor puppy play and training!


rain can give you rainbows

those clouds can create magic

neva wanted to show me her new favorite toy

i met an adorable 3 1/2 month old golden retriever, penny



I’ll be honest. My main desire for rain right now is so the mushrooms flush instead of petering out in another drought. Despite hitting the jackpot a couple of times, last summer was a crap season for mushrooms overall in Colorado. It was simply too dry. So you can imagine my delight when it rained for two days last week. Erin and I met shortly after sunrise to wade through freezing cold streams, carefully picking our way through mazes of branches while spotting and avoiding poison ivy. The conversation meandered from topic to topic, much like our path which wasn’t a path, but a series of points of interest that led us further into the woods and tall grasses.

plum blossoms – these will be good for plums come end of summer/early fall

picking wild catnip for the kitties (and dodging lurking leafless poison ivy stalks)

a pretty cluster of perfect oyster mushrooms

harvesting some more good finds



Despite her protests, I made Erin take all of the oyster mushrooms home. Part of the reason was because I know Jay, her husband (and also my friend), is crazy about wild mushrooms. The other part was because I had accumulated so much psychological freak out over poison ivy contamination with each hour we were foraging that my brain was about to explode. I’m just a little OCD… When we got to the cars, I told her I wanted her to keep the mushrooms as I began shedding my outer layers, turning them inside out, and stuffing them into plastic bags (to take home to wash). I wouldn’t have the time to clean and cook the mushrooms anyway.

I had plenty to get done at home like baking a batch of cookies to mail to my dad. Mom had pneumonia for the past couple of weeks and Dad took great care of her, so I felt he deserved a treat. Plus, he gave me this “recipe” for Chinese shrimp and sizzling rice. I put recipe in quotes because it was conveyed to me via phone conversation with a lot of shouting and hand-wavy quantities. A little bit of this. Some of that. Maybe some peas. I don’t want peas. Okay, no peas. I can only imagine if my parents had a food blog.


rice cakes



After some research, I did find a couple of recipes for homemade sizzling rice which involve steaming rice, then baking it low and slow, then deep frying it. I took the easy way out this time and bought Chinese sizzling rice cakes at an Asian supermarket. I’m showing you the packaging because that is the only way I can find it. It’s usually tucked somewhere among the dried noodles, but one time they moved them and I spent a half hour scouring the aisles before I located the rice cakes.

straw mushrooms, water chestnuts, baby bok choy, shaoxing wine, vegetable oil, chicken stock, white pepper, shrimp, rice cakes, egg white, salt, cornstarch, water, green onions, fresh ginger



The shrimp should first be mixed with Shaoxing wine, a half teaspoon of salt, and a little bit of egg white. Don’t use too much egg white or else you’ll wind up with a lot of cooked egg in the pan. You just want enough to coat the shrimp. The cornstarch should be mixed in last. I let the shrimp marinate for ten minutes on the counter, then I pop them in the freezer for another ten or fifteen minutes per my dad’s instructions. The freezing is just to get the shrimp cold and not to actually freeze them through. This probably keeps the shrimp from overcooking.

shaoxing wine, egg white, salt, cornstarch, shrimp (peeled, deveined, and butterflied)

add the shaoxing wine

toss with egg white

mix in the cornstarch



**Jump for more butter**

neva: backcountry buddies dog training

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

I watched longingly as the gentleman opened his car door at the trailhead and let his chunky yellow dog plop out. Tail wagging, gently bouncing in place with excitement, the pup’s eyes were steadfastly trained on his human. The man paid him little attention as he gathered his day pack and rummaged around for a hat. He didn’t have to pay attention, because the dog was right at his side making slight adjustments to avoid getting stepped on – like a good dance partner.

“Why can’t Neva be good like that?” I said this to Jeremy and to myself EVERY TIME I spotted a good dog, because my dog was not a good dog. She was a crazy dog. It felt like most people had a good dog without even trying, and we had a maniac despite our best efforts. We had Neva.

We had been determined to train Neva, our second dog, from the beginning when we brought her home in late May of 2015. Springtime in the mountains was the perfect opportunity to introduce Neva to all of the world that would be her doggy life with us. She met other dogs, played in the snow, hiked on trails, learned to swim, got tons of exercise, and grew into a leggy, athletic, smallish Labrador Retriever. We trained Neva ourselves following the guidance of “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days” by Dr. Sophia Yin, because yeah, we wanted a perfect puppy.


meeting banjo (and getting a treat from jeremy)

relaxing in the flowers

biting pants seemed like more fun than actual hiking

this one actually retrieves!

testing her first night in the tent (on the deck)



Neva landed far from perfect, but we would have been happy with a half-perfect or even a quarter-perfect dog. Training Neva proved difficult from the start, which made loving Neva harder than I thought it would be. We got there eventually. We put a lot of time and effort into Neva, but she never seemed to be anything other than crazy. At almost two years old, our biggest issues with Neva were 1) she would run off when she wasn’t on leash and 2) she pulled on the leash as if she were running off anyway. That’s a bit of an over simplification. Bred for hunting, Neva’s nose catches every scent on the air or ground and her instinct is to track every single one. Add to that the fact that her excitement level would shoot from zero to 100 mph in an instant and we had ourselves a dog that we didn’t know how to handle. This made time in the backcountry particularly difficult.

A friend suggested trying an e-collar – a stimulation collar which can be adjusted to a range of 100 different levels used for training dogs – used more like a tap on the shoulder to get their attention. She had great success with her own dog, Gretel, on the e-collar. We went ahead and bought one, but waited to try it out until after our friend emailed us her “notes”. I was nervous about using the e-collar incorrectly and potentially making Neva’s training even harder. Turned out the notes were instructions written specifically for Gretel by a professional dog trainer. There was a thorough analysis of Gretel’s behaviors, reactions in certain situations, and needs from her person. I read through the instructions several times, coming to the realization that what I needed was not the e-collar, but the dog trainer, Backcountry Buddies.


the e-collar



I checked out the website and Facebook page, and read reviews before contacting Backcountry Buddies. I exchanged emails with Claire describing Neva’s behaviors and our goals for her training. [Note: Claire is not the only trainer at Backcountry Buddies, but she was our main point of contact.] In Late January, Claire came up to our house for an hour to meet Neva, administered a few behavior tests (to check for aggression – Neva isn’t aggressive, thank goodness), and gave us a consultation. She assessed Neva’s personality and told us that she thought Neva could benefit from their program. Claire described how the program works: two weeks of intensive training for Neva at Backcountry Buddies without visitation, then if after two weeks Neva requires more work, they keep her for another week of training at no additional cost. There were also warnings, like if the dog became unmanageable due to separation anxiety, we would be called to come get her and receive a refund. Before leaving, Claire showed us a few basic training exercises to practice with Neva to prepare her for camp if we decided to send her.

We had a good feeling about Claire based on her ability to read Neva, and how confidently she worked with the pup in such a short time. Neva was already very much in love with Claire. After we reserved a spot for Neva, Claire sent “homework” instructions for Neva and us in the month preceding camp and we submitted our down payment for the Board and Train 14-day Obedience 2/Adventure Prep.

On March 1, 2017, we drove Neva down to Westminster and got her acquainted with her new surroundings. She paced about in anxious frenzied excitement. Claire went over a bullet list on her whiteboard of our goals for Neva’s training, asking if there was anything else to add, then ran through her training plan based on the progress Neva may or may not make. We must have given Claire the impression that Neva was a completely feral remedial maniac because she didn’t seem to have high expectations. Our attitude towards our dogs has always been one of pessimistic realism as opposed to delusional wishful thinking (people who think their dogs are angels when, in fact, they’re assholes). Even though it was a relief to drop Neva off and let someone else deal with Crazy, by the end of the day I was already missing her.


dropping neva off with claire at backcountry buddies



**Jump for more butter**