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forest bathing

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Recipe: grilled matsutake

I read about “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku a few years ago and my immediate thought was, “What a great way to describe time in the mountain forests.” If you aren’t familiar with the concept, you might think it is rooted in some ancient Japanese practice of spending time in forests for improved health. It’s actually a campaign started in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan to promote a healthier lifestyle. But I really like the concept because I find my heart, head, and body feel better with time spent in the forests (and mountains – which are partly covered in forests). It’s how I coped with my sister’s death, my cancer treatments. It’s where I go when I need healing.

Last Monday we received our first substantial snowfall of the year in the mountains. Locally we got close to a foot of new snow and some of my favorite ski mountains in Colorado were reporting nearly two feet. There’s a feeling that comes over you when that first snow storm hits for the season. After all of the sunshine and glowing yellow aspen leaves and mild autumn days, the world suddenly turns cold and white and you want to curl up in a warm blanket. I get that feeling for all of two seconds and then I’m running downstairs to get my ski gear out of the basement. Jeremy would probably have been bundled in all of his warm clothes, sipping hot coffee, and working on his laptop for days if I hadn’t shoved him out the door with me. Every season he needs reminding that he loves winter – because he really does.


our first backcountry ski of the season



It was a short-lived storm and by mid-week we were back to sunshine and pleasant temperatures. This is the Colorado way. Every season the weather has these “surprise” swings and each time it happens, people on the flats flip out because they have unreasonable expectations and a poor understanding of statistics and physics. You learn to go with the flow in the mountains. One day you’re skiing fresh snow and the next you’re trail running through an amphitheater of gold.

my favorite local aspen stand



As the weekend approached, Jeremy and I made plans for a short backpacking trip with Neva. She had been doing so well with her training that we thought we should squeeze an overnight in before we would be on skis for six months. We originally planned to take her up to a local lake, but when the overnight wind forecast was for 50 mph gusts, snow, and temperatures below freezing, we postponed by a day. I have a love-hate relationship with the Front Range. Part of the reason I hate the Front Range is the wind. Oh wait, that IS the reason. We pulled out trail maps, looked up trail information, searched Google Maps, and read weather forecasts until we found a trip that could work. We had always wanted to explore the Gore Range, but never got around to it because wrangling Neva made backpacking a miserable experience. Now we were hoping for some improvement.

starting off near a stand of orange aspens

the ten mile range in the distance

copper mountain across the valley



Silly us, we didn’t make the connection that double digit snow totals at the ski resort across the valley would mean snow on the trails less than a week later. We should have known, but we’re out of practice. Despite snow and ice covering more than half the trail, we enjoyed clear skies, mild winds, beautiful views, and a good dog! Neva had a blast and I think this means we can look forward to more backcountry exploration with her next summer – something we all love to do.

first views of lost lake

neva went for a dip after this picture was taken

beautiful potholes with snowy mountains in the distance

neva supervises as we finish dinner



Of course, when you spend a good bit of the last six months walking the woods and looking for mushrooms and berries, it’s a hard habit to break. There were zero mushrooms, because it was too cold and late in the season at that elevation, but we DID find a section of huckleberry patches that were still loaded with huge berries. They were tired looking, having been through a freeze and thaw cycle several times already. Some were beginning to shrivel, almost all of them fell off the plant when you so much as looked at them, and they tasted so complex and sweet – like the grapes they use to make ice wine. We ate a handful and I picked some for Neva to taste, at which point she began to eat them off the plants.

On our drive home from the trailhead, Jeremy and I couldn’t help but note all of the lodgepole forests that looked like prime candidates for matsutake mushrooms next year. If you will recall, matsutake means “pine mushroom” in Japanese. If you can find them fresh, grilling is a super simple and delicious way to prepare them. If not, you could try a different fleshy fresh mushroom. But the special pine-cinnamon flavor of a grilled matsutake is probably the only way you can taste the embodiment of a camping trip in the pine forest.


fresh matsutake mushrooms, soy sauce, mirin

slice the mushrooms thick

combine the soy sauce and mirin



**Jump for more butter**

one huck of a season

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Recipe: cold seafood platter

I always thought that my foraging seasons ended because there wasn’t anything left to forage, but this year has been quite different. I stopped looking for porcini, matsutake, and now huckleberries, because I found so many, ran out of space in my refrigerator to store them, was sick of cleaning them, and felt pretty exhausted.


neva knows what i’m talking about



Last weekend, Erin, Erica, Banjo, and I went huckleberry picking at ML1 – Mother Lode 1. It was better than the last two years (which totally sucked), but not nearly as good as 2014 (which was crazy good). After two not-so-great huckleberry years, I was determined to expand our foraging territory based on satellite imagery, terrain, and familiarity with our mountains. On Monday morning, Jeremy and I went to scout out a potential huck patch and hit pay dirt. We named it ML2b and I renamed ML2 as ML2a. Then Wednesday morning I went solo cross country, took a wrong turn, chatted with a couple of really nice moose hunters, got back on track, then found a different huckleberry patch that was loaded with ripe berries. That’s ML2c. Thursday morning, Jeremy accompanied me to explore an unmarked local trail which led us to an enormous huckleberry patch in the most beautiful setting, which I have dubbed ML3. Oh, and the aspens were looking gorgeous in the high country.

orange top aspens

cool mornings under golden light

colorado painted blue and gold

some huckleberry plants are showing off the reds

jeremy at lovely ml3



The weather went from downright scorching hot on Monday to snow by Saturday morning. Fall is in flirt-mode now, so it’s best to pack layers and hats and gloves when you’re going to be in the high country all day. But I really love this time of year when the temperature is hovering right at freezing as you trudge up the mountain, your trail runners and pant legs knocking the light layer of snow off the brush with each step. The sun actually feels GOOD instead of oppressive when the weather cools down. Erin and I went to pick at two of the three new locations (ran out of time to hit the third one – too many berries to pick) and spent several hours gathering enormous, ripe huckleberries while discussing our solutions to the world’s problems and giving Banjo treats, ear rubs, and butt scratches between his naps in the shade (he’s fluffy, he was plenty warm).

rainbow from my deck saturday morning (our huck patches were at the other end of it!)

snow in the high country

snow melts off the huckleberry plants

erin and banjo surrounded by hucks



It was Jeremy’s birthday this past week, so between all of the huckleberry scouting and picking and shuffling about in the refrigerator, I managed to make him noodles on his actual birthday. It’s a Chinese tradition to eat noodles on your birthday for long life, but instead of Chinese noodles, we went with linguine and clams. It’s legit. I checked with grandma years ago and she said, “Yeah, any noodles will do as long as you don’t break them.” But when the weekend rolled around, I prepared the REAL birthday surprise – a cold seafood platter – because Jeremy loves loves loves sea critters.

ready to celebrate!



The inspiration for this cold seafood platter came from all of those beautiful cheeseboards I see on Instagram. Gaby Dalkin is totally to blame for her cheesy gorgeousness. Thing is, I am not a cheese person… but I DO like seafood. If you replace all the cheeses with shellfish and crustaceans and the crackers with sauces, it’s almost the same thing. Okay, not really. Actually, I think it’s better. What’s lovely about platters is that you put whatever you darn well please on them. I also included an array of dipping sauces. Because the seafood is served cold, I omitted melted butter and opted for lighter, more summery dippers like chimichurri, garlic lemon aioli, cocktail sauce, mignonette sauce (for the oysters), and ponzu for the scallop crudo. Since the chimichurri and mignonette need a few hours for the flavors to meld, you should make those first.

parsley, red wine vinegar, black pepper, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, olive oil

chopped garlic and parsley

mix it all together

let stand at room temperature for a few hours

mignonette: shallots, sugar, salt, white pepper, unseasoned rice vinegar, white vinegar

mix together

let sit for 4 hours in the refrigerator



**Jump for more butter**

with intention

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Recipe: matsutake tempura

I’m delighted to finally flip my calendar to September! Even though it typically gets hotter over Labor Day weekend before the mountains give it up to the autumn chill (and this year was no exception), I welcome September with open arms. Here in the high country, we run late getting around to spring and summer, but are rather punctual when it comes to autumn, and even early on winter – thank goodness! That’s definitely why I feel my summers are crammed full of activities, because true summer is short in the mountains and it’s when everything seems to happen.


neva is more cuddly when she gets lots of exercise

a field of pearly everlasting as the sun drops



A few weeks ago I took a mountain biking class in Boulder, because I wanted to reduce my chances of crashing into things. Something the instructors said over and over was, “…with intention – as in life, as with everything.” They wanted our actions on the bike to be intentional – to ride the bike instead of letting the bike take us for a ride. But I really liked the non-bike part of that, too: WITH INTENTION. It really does apply to everything. Take mushrooms for example.

I’m not the type of person who feels a compulsion to put every single mushroom I find in my mouth. You may laugh, but so many new people on mycological forums seem hellbent on not doing their homework and getting themselves into the hospital or even the grave. I’m selective about the mushrooms I forage and I’m careful about the ones I drop in my bag. Jeremy and I have established a rule that unless you are 100% certain of the mushroom you are inspecting, it does not go into the bag (and potentially into someone’s gut). Just about every variety I forage has an imposter that could make you sick or kill you. I first learned to hunt porcini with an incredibly knowledgeable and careful forager. From there, I have happily stumbled across chanterelles and morels and oyster mushrooms on my many hours spent hiking the mountain forests. But for the first time ever, I set out to find a mushroom I had never seen before, did my homework, went straight to a place that seemed like the ideal environment, and found that mushroom. We found a lot of them. Right place. Right time. Right on. With intention.


hello, you shy beautiful mushroom

behold the matsutake



The name matsutake means pine mushroom (matsu = pine, take = mushroom) and yeah, the name is Japanese. This underground wonder smells strongly of spicy cinnamon (red hots candies, to be specific), with a helping of pine resin and funk, and is highly coveted in Japan. Theirs is a brown matsutake which grows in Asia. Ours is a white matsutake, also called American matsutake. They are delicious cousins. Matsutake differ from all of the other mushrooms I forage because they grow underground, only popping above the forest floor when they are relatively mature. But looking for subtle mounds in the forest duff (we call them shrumps = shroom + humps) can reveal matsutake or a whole host of other mushroom species, some toxic. You have to look at the identifying characteristics and give it a good whiff. Erin and I pulled an itty bitty mushroom that looked just like a matsutake, but had no odor. NOT a matsutake and hence, does not go into the bag. Rules.

it’s a party!

a girl gets her matsutake

as they get bigger, the veil breaks, revealing the gills



There’s a lot that happens in my brain the moment I find a new edible mushroom. There is pure joy over the “proof of existence” and that huge adrenaline rush at having found it. Then I start to wonder if there are more or if this was a sort of fluke single occurrence. You always want to find more, not simply because cooking a lonely single mushroom is a bit of a sad thing, but to see the different stages and forms that this specific mushroom takes as well as the varying environments it can inhabit. If there are a lot of them, you learn which ones are more desirable (clean and worm-free are desirable to me) and which ones to leave alone to do their mushroom jobs. And then there is the question of how to cook the mushrooms. Most of the others are no-brainers: mushroom meet butter and skillet. But the matsutake is not like most other mushrooms. The last thing you want to do is mask the delicate cinnamony-piney flavor. So I went with the other no-brainer for mushrooms: tempura. Japanese cooking technique with a Japanese mushroom? Sounds about right.

matsutake, ice water, flour, mirin, soy sauce, hondashi granules, baking soda, egg, sugar

wipe the tops clean with a damp cloth

gently peel the outer layer of the stipe

slice



**Jump for more butter**