huckleberry crisp porcini mushroom lasagne fig and brandy jam fried vietnamese spring rolls (cha gio)


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the place to be

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Recipe: fig brandy jam

People love to visit the mountains. I know this because I live here and see them flocking to the trails and campgrounds on summer weekends or flocking to the ski slopes on winter weekends. Then there is the unavoidable leaf-peeping which involves more flocking to our grand aspen stands in autumn. It’s the place to visit. It takes a little something different to want to live in the mountains. Life is a lot less “convenient” here compared to life in suburbia or the city, but I dare say it is a splendid life and it does right by me.


glowing sunset after a storm clears

trail running beautiful mountain forests

so many streams

meadows

mushroom (porcini)

jeremy cradles the precious finds



Of course, what the mountains really lack is access to good food, and by good food, I mean good ingredients. I drive down the canyon to Boulder and surrounds at least twice a week to gather groceries for cooking, blogging, and client projects. Last week, my friend, Garrett, of Vanilla Garlic, posted a recipe for fig and brandy jam. It sounded incredible and looked super easy. I was all over it when I saw that organic figs were on sale in town. [Believe me when I say it isn't lost of me that we live in such a paradise with access to a great town like Boulder, Colorado.]

sweet black mission figs

for the jam: sugar, lemon (juice), brandy, and figs



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it’s such a perfect day

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Recipe: huckleberry sorbet

It was one of those days where everything could go right, everything could go wrong, or everything could go somewhere in between. And for us, it started well before “the day” began when our alarms sounded at 2 am. The plan was to go for a hike. More precisely, we were going to hike a fourteener. For non-hikers and non-Coloradoans, it means hiking a peak over 14,000 feet high. It’s a thing here in Colorado – hiking fourteeners – because we have quite a few of them (53). We don’t actually care about bagging peaks as much as we do hiking and exploring beautiful high country. The main thing about this fourteener was getting there.


sunrise on the trail

a purplish western yellow paintbrush (castilleja occidentalis) at 12,500 feet



San Luis Peak is not remarkable for its elevation (14,014 feet, the 51st highest in the state) nor for its climb (it’s a class 1 hike), but rather for being the toughest trailhead to get to with about 2 hours travel on 30 miles of dirt road (in the dark). It is in the middle of beautiful nowhere. The biggest concern about a fourteener or any high point in western Colorado is that you don’t want to be up there when lightning strikes. The bulk of our failed summit attempts are due to being turned around by the weather. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are the norm in Colorado’s mountains and lightning deaths are not uncommon. That means you want to summit well before noon (or earlier if storms are forecast to develop earlier than usual), which translates into an early start. Early starts are what I am all about because I prefer cooler temperatures, avoiding sun exposure as much as possible, and not getting struck by lightning. That’s why we left the house at 2:30 in the morning so we could start hiking at 5:30.

pikas (lagomorphs) live at high elevations in the rocks and don’t hibernate

jeremy snacks on some homemade zucchini bread



On the 3-hour drive, we saw several bright shooting stars (it was the height of the Perseids meteor shower) despite a full moon and driving with our high-beams on. Pretty fantastic! The trailhead was empty except for one truck, which is rare for a fourteener trailhead in summer in Colorado – even on a weekday. We made our way up the valley under moonlight and headlamps until the skies brightened enough to see the trail unaided. Beaver ponds dammed much of the length of Stewart Creek and we spotted some beavers making home repairs and swimming in their ponds. Wildflowers flanked the trail for the first 5.5 miles and marmots and pikas whistled and chirped warnings to one another as we approached their habitat. Most of the climb is crammed into the last mile and a half of trail, but it was good trail with excellent scenery.

benchmark

view from the top

fueling up before heading back down

there’s a nice big drop off the west side of the summit



We didn’t dilly dally on the summit for long, mainly because there was a large dark cloud that had materialized out of thin air (literally – ha!) over the peak in the last ten minutes of our ascent. The air quality was poor compared to our typical crystal clear clean Colorado air, due to increased water vapor in the air from our monsoonal patterns (hence the big clouds popping up over the high peaks). I like summits for their unsurpassed views, but when you get to 14,000 feet the landscape is mostly rock and dirt which isn’t nearly as interesting to me without the presence of plants. On our way out, Jeremy and I paused for an early lunch break at the headwall of the basin leading to the summit. We sat in the rock-strewn meadowy slopes dotted with colorful wildflowers and particularly ambitious mushrooms, watching a herd of deer pick their way up the basin along a splashing stream of snow melt. “It’s such a perfect day,” Jeremy started softly. I turned to him, my mouth full of apple, singing, “I’m glad I spent it with you.”

It’s all relative. I realize and accept (after some friends have told me so) that my idea of a perfect day is someone else’s idea of pure hell. Just like the very thought of shopping all day in a city – or worse, the suburbs – would make me homicidal. No, I’d much rather hit the trails before sunrise and pick huckleberries with a like-minded friend who loves to hike in the mountains as much as I do.


erin picks ripe huckleberries

frozen hucks from last year’s crop



The huckleberries are taking their time ripening up, but they will get there. I picked hucks well into mid-September last year. I’m finding more and more scattered groups with red to dark purple berries, but there isn’t enough to really pick a bunch and still leave plenty for the birds and bears right now. A couple of months ago I was wringing my hands over what to do with my last 1.5 pounds of frozen huckleberries when I finally decided to make the leap and try huckleberry sorbet. It required a pound of the precious berries.

sugar, water, lemon, corn syrup, and a pound of huckleberries



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very lucky

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Recipe: mexican grilled corn salad

Rounding hairpin turns, blinded by the rising sun, I squinted at the clock on the dash. I was late. But you can’t step on the gas and hurry because there are all those Honda Civic-sized potholes to dodge as well as wild animals to watch for. I figured if they’re there, great. If they’ve already moved on, so be it. It is what it is, my first morning NOT dedicated to a trail run or a hike, but to photograph moose. I was in luck.


it seems all they ever do is eat

and eat



Our local moose have a feeding pattern in summer that draws the photographers out each morning like flies. They feed in the low meadows and then move on up to higher ground. It varies. Sometimes they will hang out until well after noon and other times they’ll sneak away only to return later. It’s their home. About 100 moose live in the Brainard Lake area alone, plus more in the surrounding mountains. These are my neighbors.

time to move on

way too close for my comfort



I managed to catch the tail end of the show, about 15 minutes’ worth of shooting. No biggie. I just wanted to see and maybe photograph moose and was able to do both. Chatting with a few gentlemen who were also shooting the moose, I learned they traveled a couple of hours just for this. They do it once a week. When they learned I lived nearby and ran/hiked here all the time, one fellow smiled and said with the utmost sincerity, “You are very lucky.” I nodded to confirm this statement – yes, I am VERY lucky. We wished one another well and said good-bye.

On the drive back home, I thought about luck. It would be easy to look at all of the negatives in my life (and I’ve had my share, thank you) and let that set the tone for the rest of my life, but what’s the point in that? Wallowing in self-pity has never been my cup of tea. There are so many more positives from a simple sunrise to helping a stranger to cherishing every hug from my mom to packing a lunch for Jeremy. I’m just grateful to be here, really. Sometimes I think about how much time I have left – I don’t really know how much time I have… it could be another 40 years or it could be a few days. Regardless, time is short. Life is short. There isn’t enough time in another 40 years to do everything I want let alone waste it on bad relationships, jonesing, terrible food, buying “stuff”, being unkind, not being honest, trying to be someone I am not, worrying what others think of me. It’s taken me a few decades to get to the point where I can trim away most of the “bullshit”, but it’s liberating and I think it makes my life feel lucky. It certainly feels GOOD.

The other day I went hiking in the high country with my friend, Erin (another Erin, but both of my Erins are awesome ladies), and her pup, Banjo. How nice to have much-needed doggie time as well as friend time. I love it when you find someone who doesn’t need to talk the talk, because she totally rocks the walk. That’s Erin. We spent the entire day hiking, foraging, and talking under sun, clouds, and pouring rain. When we weren’t chatting it up on the trail, I just sang “Banjooooo” in rhythm with my stride because he’s such a good and sweet boy. It made me think of my little Kaweah and how utterly bad she was on the trail (but cute!).


erin holds a mushroom (a kind i don’t eat)

banjo is such a good pup

and the wildflowers were out in force

clouds move in over the lovely alpine lake



Erin just had a major birthday and I wanted to do something nice. I thought of baking a flourless chocolate cake and packing it up to the high country to surprise her. Or maybe making French macarons to bust out at the lake. But the reality was that my schedule was overly full, so I bought her a Chuao bar (triple nut temptation dark chocolate – Jeremy’s favorite), tied a ribbon on it, wrote a card, and called it good. Jeremy commented that the old me would have stayed up late baking, lost sleep, and been exhausted and not enjoyed my hike. It’s true. The current me has a little more sense (just slightly) than the old me.

The idea of keeping things simple is a good one. That’s why this corn salad is so appealing. It’s like the Mexico City-style roasted corn, but it’s easier to prepare and way less messy to eat. I found the recipe on Kevin’s site, Closet Cooking, which is a great blog full of cheesy, melty, juicy, amazing recipes. Since summer is in full swing, we must partake of the corn.


chipotle powder, salt, garlic, green onions, jalapeƱo, lime, mayonnaise, corn, cotija cheese, cilantro, vegetable oil



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