double apple bundt cake grilled matsutake pheasant chanterelle pot pie huckleberry kouign amann


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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



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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)



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the frenzy

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Recipe: wild mushroom pizza

Here it comes. Cooler weather, I’ve been waiting for you since May. We were so used to leaving our windows open overnight to cool the house down that it came as a surprise to us when we woke up Saturday morning and the temperature inside was 52°F. That’s even lower than what we set our heat to overnight in winter (we set it to 55°F). No wonder Neva was all snuggled up between us on the bed after her 6 am breakfast. Outside we could see an impressive frost on the deck. Well alright then! The scrub in the high country has been turning red and gold for a couple of weeks now, but the leaves are finally following suit at higher elevations. My landscape photographer friends are getting itchy for the fall shoot. We’re all waiting to see if the colors will be on time (like usual) or if they’re going to bust out of the gate early.


bright red huckleberry bushes on cottonwood pass (looking west toward taylor reservoir)

dreamy sunset colors

red aspen leaves against bluebird skies



But before I could even think about the fall shoot, I had to research, test, make, and photograph recipes with my foraged chanterelles and porcini from last weekend. Oh, and I had to clean them – a time-consuming process with the chanties when you have several pounds. From the moment I cut the mushrooms off the ground, the clock starts ticking. I store them in brown paper bags in the refrigerator and they last about a week. Brown paper bags populated all of the non-freeze zones of my refrigerator while I shifted everything else around them. The rest will be sautéed in butter and frozen for winter. Any chanterelles that are too far gone to eat get chucked into a separate bag. Those will soak in a combination of water, molasses, and salt for a day or two before pouring the “spore” water out in suitable chanterelle environments.

Generally, I don’t pick the porcini that have been wormed out (the stipe or cap will feel particularly squishy), but sometimes you can pick a firm porcini and the few worms present will make Swiss cheese of the inside while you hike around, drive home, and pop it in the refrigerator. That’s why I try to dress the porcini (cut out any worms) in the field if I have the time. Porcini that are too wormed out (those itty bitty worms, they have voracious appetites) get staked under an appropriate spruce where some spores might take hold in the future.


always delightful to peer into the huckleberry leaves and find a chanterelle or two

porcini like the huckleberry plants, too



The first recipe I wanted to shoot involved both kinds of mushrooms, mostly because I wanted to take care of the porcini before the worms ate anymore of them (or any more worms escaped onto the refrigerator shelf). The reality of foraging porcini is that you will deal with worms. I’ve rarely encountered chanterelles that were wormed out, but it has happened on rare occasion. Even if your porcini have some worms, you can usually cut that section out and salvage the rest. So let’s make some wild mushroom pizza! And as always, you can substitute any combination of edible mushrooms.

chanterelles, porcini, pizza dough, parmesan, fontina, butter, flake sea salt, sea salt, thyme, garlic

melt the butter and mince the garlic

mix the garlic into the butter



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