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october daze

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Recipe: barbecue rib baked beans

October has been a weird month, mostly because I’ve been playing catch up on all of those neglected items on the to do list that keep getting carried over from week to week, month to month. Do any of you do that? I cross off the tasks that were completed and everything that wasn’t completed shows up on the following (longer) list. I am also catching up on things that weren’t on my to do list, but certainly weren’t getting done. Mid-autumn is when I try to return to being a normal person.


a red aspen leaf and delicate ice on a trail run

catching up with friends at lunch in boulder



Mid-autumn is also our last chance to address things like sealing the driveway, sweeping out the garages (they accumulate mud all winter and summer), spreading the compost to make room in the compost bin for a winter’s worth of additions, putting away summer furniture, etc. But then Jeremy noticed that our first floor heating in Crested Butte wasn’t able to maintain the set temperature, so we drove out for less than 24 hours this weekend to troubleshoot the problem and find a workaround until the new part could be installed.

jeremy seals the driveway as neva looks on

a nice hot bowl of pork belly ramen after figuring out what was wrong with the heating

fresh snow in crested butte



That last minute drive to Crested Butte meant cancelling a grouse hunt with Erin and Jay. But we were able to return home in time for me to join Erin Sunday morning. The winds were pretty bad at home which meant they would be terrible up high closer to the Continental Divide. They were in fact, horrible, with 60 mph gusts shoving us this way and that. But we plodded ahead through the dark, in howling winds and cold, and wound our way through willows and aspens and conifers. Fresh snow didn’t seem to give up any signs of grouse, and we figured they thought the same thing we were thinking about the winds. Those fucking winds. It’s the one thing I would change about life on the Front Range. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Erin and I chuckled as we hiked out under the morning sun – shouting over the roaring and crashing of gusts to hear one another, “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!”

well, we certainly have nice sunrises

erin scanning the next meadow for the elusive dusky grouse



The winds are still raging against the house, but they are supposed to ease up a bit this week. The back and forth of sunny and warm with snowy and cold days is signature autumn around the mountains here. And while I loathe the windstorms, I like having four distinct seasons. Having lived in Southern California for ten years, I don’t miss what I call “hot” and “hotter”. Don’t get me wrong, there were many things I loved about So Cal like the beans at Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ in Van Nuys. My friend, Melinda, dubbed Hogly Wogly’s “a shrine to the slaughterhouse” and whenever we went we would order “beans and beans” for our two side dishes (two orders of baked beans). Since we moved to Colorado, I’ve made half hearted attempts at recreating the beans, which were mostly met with disappointment. But a couple of weeks ago, I think I got a step closer to those Hogly Wogly beans I love so much.

mustard (not dijon as pictured, you want spicy brown), ketchup, worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, baked beans, tamari (or soy sauce), a half rack of barbecue pork ribs, onion, bell pepper, brown sugar, bacon



You can make your own ribs or purchase barbecue ribs for this recipe. I found a half rack of St. Louis cut pork ribs will yield about a half pound of rib meat. I made my own ribs using the sous vide method and finished the racks on the grill. Choose a barbecue sauce you love – something sweet, spicy, and tangy for me. Here, I’ve used a jar of Banjo BBQ sauce that my friend, Jay, makes. To get started on the beans, fry the bacon until soft. Don’t fry them until crispy or else they will burn when you bake the beans. Chop the bacon and save a few tablespoons of the bacon grease.

fry the bacon until soft, not crispy



**Jump for more butter**

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**

what’s hot

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Recipe: morel prosciutto asparagus pizza

No matter how hard I try to prepare myself for the onslaught of summer temperatures, it always takes my body by surprise. Our overnight lows dip less each night and the midday sun now feels as if my face and skin are ready to burn right off. It makes me wonder how I ever survived growing up in Virginia and living in Southern California for ten years. If there is one drawback to living in the mountains, it’s that I’ve become a wimp when the mercury rises above 65°F. Give me single digits and snow ANY day, thanks! Heat aside, watching the mountains spring to life in all their glory is something magical to behold. I could spend the rest of my days marveling at these brief but productive mountain summers and never get enough.


false hellebore

phlox blossoms and lupine leaves

neva enjoying the lupine flowers

gold banner and shooting stars (pink) and a happy bumblebee



For the past couple of months, we have been following the journey of two friends who live up the road from us in Nederland. They started at the U.S. border with Mexico and hiked north on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through New Mexico, then made the first ski crossing this season of the formidable San Juan mountains in Southern Colorado and are continuing north through the state. A few days before they crossed Colorado State Highway 114, Elaine and I coordinated via very short messages to meet where the trail intersects that lonely stretch of road. It was an 80 minute drive from Crested Butte, but it was the easiest way to meet up logistically. Jeremy and I brought food and water, and we took their skis, boots, and skins because the snow pack has been withering under the warm and intensely sunny days. What’s cool is that they will be hiking the CDT into our local mountains on the Front Range and they will hike home for a few days before resuming their trek northward into Canada. Dan and Elaine are not only amazing endurance athletes, they are two genuinely thoughtful and wonderful individuals. If you’d like to follow their progress and cheer them on, they post when they can on Instagram as @elainevardamis and @nomadwolf360.

elaine and dan



We returned to the Front Range at the end of last week right about when Nature decided to turn the dial up to BROIL. En route from Crested Butte to Nederland, we made a pit stop at Copper Mountain. All of the mountain streams are flowing fast and high due to the runoff from the melting snow pack. Because it was so warm, we walked Neva down a little path to a small protected eddy on the edge of the nearby creek. She walked in and seemed to enjoy cooling her paws when she took one step out of the eddy into the heavy flow and got swept downstream in a split second. Luckily, Neva was on her halti (gentle leader) and leash and I was holding the other end, but the current was so strong that I worried the halti would slip off or break or that she would drown. I waded in and tried to carefully reel her back to me, calling her to swim to me. She tried, but the stream was clearly so much stronger than her legs could paddle. In less than a minute, I grabbed her and had her back on the bank – Jeremy was already slightly downstream in anticipation of having to catch Neva if the leash or leader broke. We toweled her off and kissed her wet head. She was back to her usual self after showing a little affection by rubbing herself against our legs. She’s used to her alpine lakes that are safe and calm, but we’ll see to it that she sticks to low-flow streams from here on out.

This past weekend was apparently our farewell to spring. Jeremy and I went for a quick backcountry ski to escape the heat, only to discover the heat had been hanging out in the high country for a while. Winter and spring ski travel through the trees is easier in part because you are navigating some twenty feet above ground where the conifer branches are smaller and there is more space between trees. A week before summer and you find yourself clambering over deadfall (fallen trees), bare muddy patches, rocks, and bushwhacking through dense branches that you had gleefully skied a month earlier and twelve feet higher before the snow began to melt. Then Erin and I made one more foraging trip and found a good number of morels considering we were expecting to go home empty-handed. To be honest, I am a little relieved to stop thinking, dreaming, researching, obsessing, and hunting morels. It will be nice to have a break before the other mushroom seasons kick into high gear. This year I come away with a jar of dried morels thanks to my friend, Jay (Erin’s husband), and a happy stash of butter-sautéed morels in my freezer. It was a great season.


one last backcountry ski for the season

wave cloud over the reservoir

erin still finding morels

such a beautiful and weird mushroom



It seems fitting to post one more morel recipe for those still finding them to our north and west, or buying them in markets, or those who have their own stash to draw upon. We love our pizza year round, but it is especially lovely come summertime because we grill them on a pizza stone on the deck while the house remains cool. For mushroom foragers, there are some standard recipes you can always count on for enjoying mushrooms: pasta, steak, sautéed in butter, quiche, pot pies or pastries, toast, batter-fried, and pizza.

morels, mozzarella, salt, butter, prosciutto, garlic, asparagus, more butter, eggs, black pepper, pizza dough



Though official summer is a few days away, morels are very much a spring mushroom. That’s why I really enjoy serving them with a spring vegetable like asparagus and creamy, mild flavors like eggs and mozzarella. I’m sure a red sauce would be great with any mushroom, but garlic butter complements morels without masking their deliciousness.

mash the garlic and salt into a paste

stir the garlic paste into softened butter

dry fry the morels in a hot pan

add a pat of butter and sauté

you can chop or slice the asparagus (i like ribbons here)



**Jump for more butter**