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i look to august

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Recipe: huckleberry vodka infusion & huckleberry moscow mule

I’m writing on the last day of July, a month that has been drier than normal. We’ve received 1.3 inches of rainfall in my neighborhood this month compared to the average July rainfall of 2.25 inches. That may not seem like a lot, but I assure you the difference is noticeable in the mountains. The good news is that we just had a few hours of steady rain this afternoon (it delivered .16 inches to our July total). My hope is that August will usher in more precipitation from the sky.

August has always been a special month for me because it is the birthday month of my mom and my sister. Tomorrow, August 1, Kris would have turned 50. That hits me deep in my gut for so many reasons. But I’ll keep those reasons to myself and celebrate that I was fortunate enough to have had a sister and best friend for over three decades. She remains an important part of who I am today, kept safe behind my breastbone where she tugs at my emotions just like she did when we fought or when she left for college or when she called crying because her cat had died of old age or every time we laughed so hard at our stupid inside jokes that we had trouble breathing.


always in my heart



This past week we got out on a new(ish) trail as well as some familiar trails and I took careful note of what was and wasn’t happening on the ground. Wildflowers are good, but not exceptional. The mushroom flush is late. Parts of the mountain forests are so dry that it sounds (and feels) like I’m stepping on a bed of potato chips when I hike through.

hiking neva while jeremy runs ahead

jeremy had run up to the pass, the saddle between the two peaks in the distance

hiking under an early morning sun

hello, leccinum!

pink wintergreen in bloom



Over the weekend we hosted a dinner party that felt just right. It’s taken me forever to accept that inviting a lot of people for one dinner is far less enjoyable for me than working in small batches and pacing myself throughout the year. It was the perfect size with a group that clicked well together. Everyone was super nice and funny and fun and relaxed – and that makes all of the effort of hosting worth it to us. Amazingly enough, instead of acting like a complete maniac the entire evening, Neva calmed down within a half hour of everyone arriving and she was actually a pretty good pup most of the night. Then the following night, my parents treated us to a delicious homemade Chinese feast at their place in Boulder. I think this means I’m due for a big trail run!

our dinner party

mom and dad made some of my favorite homestyle chinese dishes



I know I’m going to sound like a nut when I say this, but I’m glad July is over because it means we are headed for good things in August. Regardless of the state of the mushrooms, I have my eyes set on trail running longer routes, exploring new trails, backpacking, and huckleberry season. Oh yes, I have been monitoring the huckleberries since the snow melted. After last year’s dismal season, Erin and I are hoping that this year will be fruitful, so to speak. I’m seeing lots of green peas, a few ghosts (dried and white dead ones), and some turning rose or a handful of early guys going snurple.

early morning dew on an unripe huckleberry

green peas, ghosts, purples, and snurples!



In honor of huckleberry season and huckleberries in general – which are always on my mind throughout the year – I’m sharing yet another huckleberry recipe. I made a test batch of huckleberry infused vodka two years ago and have been making more ever since. We serve it at parties or sometimes I find Jeremy adding it to a cocktail. It requires two ingredients and some patience.

huckleberries and vodka



The huckleberries can be fresh or frozen. Since fresh berries are hard to come by, I have always used my frozen huckleberries for this vodka. And I opt for large bottles of cheap vodka because I really enjoy walking up to the cashier at the liquor store looking like a lush, even though I don’t really drink alcohol. It’s great! Chop or crush the berries to break the skins. I use my food processor and give it a quick whir. You don’t need to purée the berries, you merely need to perform a coarse chop. Combine the huckleberries and vodka in a glass jar, give it a shake, then store it in a cool, dark, dry place for 2 to 3 weeks. Shake it every few days or so. Simple!

place the berries in a food processor

coarse chop

pour the vodka over the berries



**Jump for more butter**

first fourteener

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry lemonade

Neva will be five months old in a couple of days. I have this mental disconnect that she is still a puppy and yet she has changed and grown so much since her first days with us. My sleeping pattern has shifted earlier because of the puppy, so I tend to go to bed a half hour to an hour sooner than Jeremy. During that time before Jeremy turns in for the night, Neva hops up on the bed and snuggles with me. Usually Jeremy will hear a series of exclamations like, “Don’t sit on the pillow!” or “Stop licking my hair!” before things settle down (and by things, I mean Neva). When both puppy and I are nodding off into Dreamland, Jeremy will gently lift Neva off the bed and carry her to her crate, which is next to my bedside. And then we sleep as much as we can before she wakes up in the morning.

But one morning last week, we were the ones waking Neva at 4 am to go for her biggest hike yet – Mount Bierstadt, a 14,060 foot mountain. Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation) are a thing here in Colorado, because there are over 50 of them and because some have class 1 or class 2 trails to summit. Jeremy and I have mixed feelings about these mountains as they tend to attract a lot of people, something we prefer to avoid. This is especially true of mountains like Bierstadt which are fairly close to the Denver Metropolitan area and are relatively “easy” as fourteeners go. We chose it for these reasons – close to our house and not too challenging for Neva, who has been “in training” since the day we got her.

On the way to the trailhead, we stopped at the Georgetown Visitor Center to use the facilities and then Neva hurled in the car. Neva gets car sick quite often, so we usually have towels, plastic bags, and napkins at the ready. We are hoping she’ll grow out of it, but I’d love to hear if any of you have suggestions or recommendations on how to make her car rides less pukey. While Neva ate her breakfast (aka dinner) at the trailhead, she spat something out in the middle of her chowfest. Jeremy picked it up and placed it in my outstretched palm, “A baby tooth!” he said gleefully. At last, her adult teeth are coming in and those razor sharp baby teeth shall maim us no longer.


the sun clears the ridge with bierstadt in silhouette (upper right)

the view from summit

jeremy holds neva up for the token summit photo



Neva was a champ getting up the mountain, only whimpering on the last pitch when the boulders were too big for her to climb. Jeremy – the real champ of the day – carried her up and down those sections with the care and surefootedness that I’ve come to trust with my life. There were a lot of people on the summit, so we didn’t linger for very long. Plus, we discovered that Neva was scared of the thousand foot drops on either side of the peak (we consider this a healthy fear). She stayed very close to us and leaned her body against ours, trembling and making short quiet moans. On the descent, Jeremy carried her down the boulder field until they were safely on the saddle and she could resume being the crazy puppy that all of the hikers wanted to meet and pet. Not bad for a puppy’s first fourteener.

stopping for treats

taking a break and refueling

a nice cool stream crossing in the afternoon sun



The next few days were spent checking on huckleberry patches. It’s an odd season with lots of what Erin and I call “ghost” hucks – dead, dried up, white hucks that didn’t make it to their glorious purple potential. Was it due to late freezes or perhaps long stretches of hot weather with no nurturing afternoon rainstorms? We were concerned because this seemed to be happening to most of the patches that had been loaded with purple berries the previous season. Thankfully, the motherlode had lots of snurples (the really dark, sweet, purple berries – another term we coined), although a good fraction had gone ghost. Erin and I went foraging over the weekend to another spot that Jeremy and I had scoped out on a trail run last year. It had looked okay when Jeremy and I took Neva up there to check it out in the failing light of dusk, but when Erin and I arrived Sunday morning, there were so many snurples we couldn’t even make our way through the patch without stepping on some berries. Hot damn! We named this patch ML2 (motherlode 2) and by the time we headed back to Erin’s truck, our fingers, pants knees, and pants seats were stained purple.

jeremy captured me picking huckleberries at sunset

what a couple of hours will get you



It’s been hot and dry here such that the mushrooms have all but packed up and left, and our air quality has been abysmal due to smoke from wildfires in California and Washington. It makes me sad because this is typically a lovely time of year in Colorado and because California and Washington are both states that are dear to my heart. After several hours of picking huckleberries under the sun, I couldn’t wait to get home and pour myself a glass of huckleberry lemonade. That’s where it’s at for me. Lemons and hucks make a great team – why not drink them?

lemons, huckleberries (frozen), water, more water, and sugar

simple syrup: add water to the sugar



**Jump for more butter**

keeping it cool

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Recipe: mom’s colorado mountain cooler

Every morning at 5:30, I am jolted out of my slumber by the squeak of the moppy bear or the drawn out honk of the blue dragon. Neva usually wakes up around 5:15 or so and quietly – sweetly – chews on her toys in her crate. When she tires of the toys, she’ll start to chew the crate, or she’ll give a little whimper. If we try to ignore the whimper (believe me, we try), she gives a sharp little bark. Time to take the puppy out to potty. I record her potty times each day on my phone. Each day I begin tapping in the date with clumsy fingers and uncorrected vision.

How can it almost be August already? Deja vu. At the end of June I said the same thing about July. And so on and so forth. It’s been this way since the holidays last year, but summer is when we jumped ahead at warp speed grasping at the days speeding past us. There’s just too much going on all at once. The long daylight hours lull you into a false sense of having plenty of time to get it all done, and then night falls and you realize how screwed you are going to be in the sleep department… again.

Despite being someone who cannot wait for winter to return, I must admit that this summer is flying past faster than I would like. It’s the puppy vortex, but it’s also wildflowers and mountains and loved ones and hikes and summer storms and night skies and hummingbirds and huckleberries and rocky streams and – all of it.


nature’s confetti

dramatic light at sunset

neva in the high country

on our way to find some mushrooms

completely wiped out and resting in the shade by the trail

having a fun play session on the snow with banjo



We appear to have transitioned from cool and rainy weather to the scorching hot and dry weather that runs my patience down to zero in 2 seconds flat. It’s a good time to pull out some frosty beverages. On our most recent visit with Jeremy’s parents, my mother-in-law served a refreshing drink that I thought was worth sharing here, for all of the melting people. It’s fruity, frosty, and you have the option of making it boozy, too. I called it Mom’s Colorado Mountain Cooler, but the more descriptive title is a sparkling lemon sorbet melon ball cooler.

sparkling water, cantaloupe, honeydew, rose water, lemon sorbet, mint



You can purchase lemon sorbet or you can make your own. If you make your own, you should start the sorbet well ahead of time (like a day ahead or the morning of). The rosewater is optional. If you aren’t a fan, leave it out. If you like it, add it to your homemade sorbet or add a drop directly into the drink. I prefer none or just a tiny hint of rose. It should be subtle, not overpowering. Ball or cube the melons and freeze them solid for at least an hour before serving.

ball the melons

a little rosewater (this is way too much – a drop is sufficient)

muddle some fresh mint



**Jump for more butter**