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cheeseboarding

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Recipe: build your own cheeseboard

My parents did a lot of entertaining when I was growing up. It was something I was vaguely aware of as a little kid. Kris and I would belly flop onto my parents’ bed and watch television until we heard the adults move to the dining room for dinner. At that point, Kris would nudge me and say, “Come on, let’s go downstairs.” We’d sneak into the kitchen unseen by the guests (but always seen by Dad, who would flash us one of his goofy smiles as we tiptoed down the stairs) and nosh on whatever was left of the appetizers: smoked oysters, cheese, crackers, olives, caviar. Party food.

Mom and Dad still entertain to this day, so I found it amusing when Dad texted me last year asking what goes on a cheeseboard. He wanted ideas since I had plated a few during various dinner parties they had attended. I grabbed some photos from my archives as well as a handful off of Pinterest to give him some inspiration. When I threw Dad’s belated birthday party at our place last weekend, I made sure to kick it off with a nice cheeseboard because I know my Dad loves a cheeseboard packed with ALL of the goodies.

The holidays are upon us and that means party season is in full swing. Cheeseboards are a lovely way to get a dinner party started or to act as the workhorse for a cocktail party or to keep family and friends occupied as you rush to cook Thanksgiving dinner. If you are looking for ideas to spark your own cheeseboard artistry, I list and show some of my favorites here. There is enormous flexibility in cheeseboards, including not having any cheese!


neva wants to become an olympic cheeseboarder [note: grapes are toxic for dogs]



Let’s start with the actual board. The board can be a plate (porcelain, glass, etc.), slate, wood, whatever you like! Plates are the easiest to clean – especially if you serve things that are oily or messy directly on the board. And slate is great for writing the names of cheeses with chalk. I am partial to wood boards because of the beautiful natural colors and grain, which is why I have a lot of them. Some are gifts from my friend, Jamie, who is an incredibly talented woodworking artist. Occasionally, I use my largest Boos cutting blocks (24×18-inch walnut and 20×15-inch maple) because they give me the greatest surface area.

If you do have something oily like hot smoked salmon, and you don’t want the oils to soak into your nice wood boards (because let’s face it, once the board is out, it doesn’t get cleaned up until after the last guest leaves), you can slap a small plate underneath it to keep the fishy smells out of the wood. And remember, cheeseboards don’t have to be these gigantic cornucopias that can feed the whole neighborhood. Small cheeseboards for two are romantic. Medium cheeseboards for a cozy gathering of close friends work very well without being overwhelming. So don’t go crazy, but… you can go a little crazy.


you can serve on plates or slate

wood boards: an array of shapes, sizes, and designs



The fun part of cheeseboarding is picking out what to serve on your cheeseboard. It’s whatever you want it to be. I personally like the cheeseboards that don’t have much if any cheese because I don’t dig on eating cheese straight up. But I know the majority of my guests love cheese, so there is always at least one soft, one semi-soft, and one hard cheese. I also have friends who have Celiac disease, so I can either omit all gluten items (mostly crackers and breads) or plate those separately to avoid contamination of the gluten-free items.

Another nice thing about cheeseboards is that they can be as labor intensive as you like – or not! Just about everything can be purchased, but sometimes it’s nice to add your own personal touch. I always make my own crostini and I usually make those prohibitively expensive fruit, nut, and seed crisps unless I am slammed for time. Grissini happen to be quite easy to make at home, too.

I find fruit and fruity things pair well with various cheeses or act as a nice palate cleanser between nibbles. I don’t make my own fruit, but I do make my own fig and brandy jam every summer to serve with brie throughout the year. I have made membrillo, a delectable quince paste in the past to pair with manchego, but it requires a lot of work at my elevation, so I have resorted to purchasing it now that more stores carry it. In late summer, I love it when I can find good fresh figs. Lots of folks like figs with blue cheese and honey, but I tend eat them straight or with a little slice of prosciutto. Another crowd pleaser is baked brie with fresh cranberry sauce or fig jam or tomato jam. Goat cheese and jam is also a hit.


cheeses: aged cheddar, smoked gouda, brie, boursin, manchego

some gluten options: croccantini, brioche toasts, grissini, crostini, fruit and nut crisps, sliced baguette

fruity things: pomegranate, fig brandy jam, grapes, apple, membrillo



**Jump for more butter**

a quarter century

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Recipe: roasted chanterelle mushrooms

I remember the first Halloween we spent in our Colorado house, I watched with great anxiety as a 3-foot tall Yoda struggle up the driveway in the failing light of day. The ferocious winds whipped his ancient Jedi robes this way and that. I think I gave that little kid 5 pieces of candy for his sheer determination and unbroken spirit. There was no truer Jedi than he. Back then, our neighbor’s children were little and would come by to trick or treat more as a courtesy call. We always told them to take two handfuls because so few kids came around to our house (it’s a short trek from the main road). As the kids got older and went away for college, we still held out for a year or two. I made sure to buy the kind of candy that Jeremy likes so that I could tuck one into his lunch after no one came by for Halloween.

These days we turn off the porch lights in the hopes that no one will ring the doorbell and send Neva into a tizzy of territorial barking. There were no trick-or-treaters to worry about this Halloween. As the winds gusted to 85 mph around our house, we were inside with friends eating Chinese hot pot and discussing climate science, the CDT (Continental Divide Trail), winter biathlon, Greenland, and chocolate.


neva loves to look out the window

dinner prep for chinese hot pot

a windy halloween sunset



That night, after our friends had driven off into the darkness and we finished washing dishes, the clock struck midnight. Jeremy turned to me and said, “Happy I’m Glad I Met You Day!” November 1st is our smoochiversary, but this November 1st was our 25-year smoochiversary. These “milestones” happen in the same year: 20th wedding anniversary in March, 25 years together in November. Numbers aside, it’s the quality of this relationship – this partnership – that means so much to me. Here’s to our ongoing grand adventure, my dearest Jeremy.

strawberry peak in 1994

crested butte in 2017



After our mid-week dinner party, I had the blahs for a couple of days. Blahs as in feeling tired, tummy out of whack, unable to focus, aches and pains. It was as if all of summer and the first half of autumn had caught up to me, knocked me down, left me in the dust. Ever since my cancer treatments, I’ve learned to listen to my body instead of running it into the ground like I did in my teens and twenties. I let myself sleep and recuperate from my weird fatigue and I was back to my old self in no time. Jeremy could tell I was feeling better one morning because I took the dog out to potty, shot sunrise, and rattled off a list of house maintenance that needed to be completed before the next snow storm as I practically rolled him out of bed. We got it all done and more, plus I’m back to a regular exercise regimen which always *always* makes me feel better.

lovely sunrise colors in the west

a windy hike with neva (note the ears flapping in the wind)

my parents arrived in town sunday night, so we picked them up and went to dinner



I’ve noticed when I walk through the produce section of Whole Foods, I linger by the fresh mushrooms and inspect them carefully. I caress them to see how fresh they are, turning them to admire the structures, smelling them to see if they have a strong perfume. I’m searching for a hint of the tangible characteristics of the mushrooms I foraged. It’s even worse at Costco right now where they have fresh chanterelles in stock. These are sealed in plastic with tiny air holes so the mushrooms don’t turn to mush. I tried sniffing them through the little holes, but I couldn’t catch the slightest sign of that signature chanterelle smell. I’m not buying any, I’m just a little bit in mushroom withdrawal. I imagine I will continue to be that strange girl acting weirdly around the mushrooms until next spring. But since fresh chanterelles are in the store, you might want to take advantage and get some. Here’s an elegant, easy, and tasty way to prepare the queens of the mushroom world. Let’s roast them! I made this dish back in September at the end of my chanterelle season.

shallot, olive oil, butter, chanterelles, salt, pepper, fresh thyme

slice the chanterelles thick or in half if they are small

sliced, melted, stripped, and ready



**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**