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Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Recipe: bourbon vanilla bean paste

I’m slurping on a spicy, hot bowl of posole right now while snow goes hurtling past our house on some pretty enthusiastic winds. It is my hope that the soup will do battle with this cold that has settled into my throat and chest. I guess my logic is to burn the heck out of the cold before it progresses. Our Thanksgiving week was free of turkey and pumpkin, but full of long walks and fetch sessions with Neva. Our Crested Butte neighborhood was quiet as many people were traveling for the holiday, which further allowed us to pursue our plans for introversion. Of course, I had to run out to meet my friends’ new puppies – a brother and sister – 15 week old Australian shepherds.


neva waits to indulge in her thanksgiving plate of beef and bacon

meet little abbey exploring the snow (sorry, i didn’t get a photo of blue boy – but he’s cute!)



Snow did arrive mid-week and we were able to get out and reacquaint ourselves with our various skis. That gliding motion is akin to flying – it’s addictive. But timing is everything and sometimes you have to hit the trail or the mountain before the snow gets skied up and/or melted away. We managed to skin uphill on the mountain, skate on the nordic trails, and get a nice ski tour at Lily Lake. A decent jumpstart to our ski season.

after skinning up, jeremy skied out ahead of the first chair on opening day

getting our skate legs (and arms and everything) back into the groove

ski touring the beautiful backcountry

no tinsel here – our icicles are the real deal



Now that Thanksgiving has passed, everything pumpkin is now becoming everything peppermint. Christmas trees are going up and gift shopping has kicked into high gear. If you are looking for a simple, but extra awesome homemade gift for a baker in your life, might I suggest some bourbon vanilla bean paste? I first laid eyes on a bottle of this luxurious wonderfulness at the King Arthur Flour store in Vermont over three years ago while on a press junket but opted to leave it on the shelf when I wondered if the TSA would confiscate it. Then my mother-in-law gave me a bottle during a visit last New Year. She loves the stuff and wanted to spread the gospel. I used it for special recipes and found the vanilla bean paste to be easier than a vanilla bean and a bigger flavor boost than vanilla extract. When I (sadly) ran out last month, I went online looking for more and even contemplated purchasing a gallon of it to get a better price per unit volume.

this stuff… the stuff of vanilla dreams

my last spoonful



But you know me… the wheels turned another 360 degrees and I wondered how hard could it possibly be to make your own? Turns out, it’s not hard at all. This magical potion consists of three ingredients: vanilla beans, sugar (in some form), and booze (optional, but good). That’s it. And there isn’t any waiting around or crazy kitchen ninja stuff going on with the recipe. It’s quite straightforward, which is why it makes such a great gift for the bakers in your life, and for yourself as well!

bourbon, agave nectar, vanilla beans



**Jump for more butter**

the gifts of rain

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Recipe: bourbon-glazed doughnut muffin doughnuts

“Good morning!” I chirped as I stepped off the trail to let an older gentleman coming toward me pass. “It sure is,” he smiled in his heavy Texan accent, “I just hope it doesn’t rain.” I winced internally, but reciprocated the smile and reminded him that the rains in our Colorado mountains are what make the trees and flowers so beautiful and the streams and lakes vibrant. “Well, I just hope it doesn’t rain until AFTER I finish my hike,” he chuckled. I wished him well and continued on my way. Earlier last week we had a nice pattern of unstable weather. It wasn’t the typical summer afternoon thunderstorm cycle, but tumultuous clouds that marched across the valley delivering lightning and heavy rain one minute followed by sunshine and clear skies, then back to the storminess – all this before 9 am!


mammatus clouds overhead

dark storms, rain, and a rainbow



I love rain in summer. I say in summer because springtime rains in the high country kill the snow pack and autumn rains can bring about an abrupt end to the fall colors. Summer rains feed the mountains and keep the dust down on the trails and backcountry roads. Jeremy and I have a great appreciation for cloud cover when we are outside, which is often.

paddling with jeremy and our friend and her two girls (so cute!)

beautiful morning for a ride



And of course, another reason I love the rains is because they bring the mushrooms. While I’ve been watching a variety of mushrooms flush in the last week, I hadn’t seen any of the mushrooms I was specifically seeking – those I eat. You have to give these things time… and rain… and sun. My patience paid off this weekend in the form of chanterelles and aspen oyster mushrooms. There are several steps to foraging mushrooms: finding them, photographing them (optional, but not really), harvesting them, cleaning them, cooking them, and finally, eating them. I like finding and photographing. Jeremy likes finding and eating. That leaves me with all the in-between steps which is why I will sometimes give a bag of foraged mushrooms to a friend rather than deal with all of the cleaning myself.

let’s get this (chanterelle) party started!

jeremy holds some of the day’s haul as neva looks on (she’s looking for a treat)

beautiful aspen oyster mushrooms growing off a dead aspen log



I’m so happy that the mushroom season wasn’t a bust, just later than last year. I can live with that. In celebration, let’s make some doughnuts. Let’s make boozy doughnuts! I don’t feel compelled to make fried doughnuts all that often because of the frying aspect. That’s not the case with baked doughnuts. Because I purchased specific equipment – the doughnut pans – I’m always on the lookout for a good baked doughnut recipe. I like baked doughnuts because they are easier to make and clean up as well as healthier than fried doughnuts (a low bar, I know). Thing is, baked doughnuts have the texture of cupcakes which is too light and fluffy for my tastes. I did some research this past spring on denser texture baked doughnuts. After a lot of trial and error (not quite there on a dense chocolate baked doughnut – but please share if you have a favorite), I landed on a brilliant recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website for doughnut muffins. Yes, it’s for muffins that taste like doughnuts. I just took the doughnut muffin recipe and made… doughnuts.

vanilla paste, confectioner’s sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, eggs, salt, butter, milk, sugar, brown sugar, flour, bourbon

butter the pans

cream together the butter, oil, and sugars

beat in the eggs



**Jump for more butter**

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**