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life outside

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Recipe: coconut shrimp

For the first time in a long time, I have no photos of the July 4th fireworks this year. We can get a sense of how Neva will react to the fireworks because the nights leading up to the Fourth of July always have at least one or two houses in the community setting off their own (granted, there are a lot of out-of-towners who flock to Crested Butte over the July 4th holiday who love their fireworks). From what we could tell, Neva wasn’t a fan. So when the official celebration took place on the mountain and the several ancillary light shows erupted in the neighborhood, little Neva smashed herself in the corner of the kitchen, or squeezed herself between me and the cabinets while I prepared a late dinner, or trembled against Jeremy on the sofa. It made me very sad because all we could do to make her feel less scared was to hold her tight and offer words of reassurance that probably didn’t reassure her at all. When the evening was over, we let her sleep on the bed with us and promised her the remainder of the week would be filled with puppy fun time.

And Neva had a great week of hiking, swimming, fetching, jumping off the paddleboards and climbing back on dozens of times. She ran alongside Jeremy while he rode his bike, got extra walkies, and met up with lots of puppy friends (Poncho, Bella, Peaches, to name a few). All of this activity means she gets rest days, too. Rest days for Neva translate into trail running days or SUP days for us. We all get time outside, because time outside is good for us physically and mentally.


eyes on the prize (the orange tennis ball)

tuckered out and resting on the custom pillow i made just for neva to use on the windowsill

float time with a view of the ruby range

elephant head in bloom

mule ears greet the sun

a painterly sunset



We typically hunker down at home over the weekends to get work done and to avoid weekend crowds, but we got up early on Saturday (early enough that *I* woke Neva rather than the other way around!) to beat the heat and take Neva on her longest hike to date (14+ miles). The trail is appropriately named Oh Be Joyful because it follows Oh Be Joyful Creek up verdant Oh Be Joyful Valley. Hiking up, we took note of a dozen beautiful waterfalls and cascades spilling down the steep southern walls of the glacial valley and feeding the swift and cold creek. The wildflowers are not yet at peak, but many varieties were showing off their colors in bright, happy displays. The high country’s snowpack is melting in earnest under the summer sun, which meant countless stream crossings and muddy slogs on our hike. At the end of the valley, we turned south and ascended part of the headwall, traversing slushy snowfields to the cirque where Blue Lake is perched at 11,100 feet. The stoke was high for Neva until maybe mile 10 when we paused in the shade for an apple break. Instead of standing alert for every whiff of marmot, pika, or other critter, she laid down in the grass and ate her apple pieces, looking rather content with her doggy life.

shooting stars (magenta) and kings crown (red) mingle by a stream

jeremy and neva hike through fields of blooming osha

nearing the end of the valley

carpets of marsh marigolds and glacier lilies

from the headwall, looking across to democrat basin

at last, blue lake

pausing at the edge of the lake before neva’s swim-fetch session



For two months each year, my parents are in Boulder to escape the oppressive summers of Southern Virginia. The other ten months of the year I get occasional phone calls, emails, and lots of texts from them. I taught them how to text when they got their first iphones just a few years ago, and now both parents (in their mid-70s) make liberal use of emojis and send me photos of their meals! I kinda love it. Food is very much a thing with my family. When I find a new recipe that I really like, I make note to share it with my parents when I see them in the summer. Of course, that is getting harder to do ever since I introduced Dad to sous vide steak a few weeks ago. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to cook anything other than sous vide steak when we get together with my folks because he is OBSESSED. I even Amazon Primed Dad his own sous vide before I left for Crested Butte so he wouldn’t have to wait for me to come back to the Front Range (with my sous vide…).

If I’m lucky, I’ll squeeze a few new recipes into our gatherings – because that is what my parents and I do – we share new wonderful things with one another. I think that’s one way that we express our love in my family, along with yelling and texting questions that Google can answer and sharing carwash coupons. Coconut shrimp has been around for ages, but I hadn’t tried it until this past winter. Of course, after I made it and tasted it, I kicked myself for not having tried it earlier. It’s simple and straightforward, but it is also addictive and delicious. I’m fairly certain Mom and Dad will like it.


coconut, sugar, salt, egg whites, cayenne, cornstarch, raw shrimp

place the cornstarch, salt, and cayenne in a large ziploc bag

mix the sugar and coconut together

peel, de-vein, and butterfly the shrimp (leave tails on!)



**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**

gifts and giving

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Recipe: pheasant and morel vol au vent

It seems that everyone is checking out for the summer. People are on vacation and no one is reading blog posts. I get it. I get that. If I didn’t feel the compulsion to document my summer activities and my summer recipes (because OCD), I’d go dark over here until Octoberish. I’ll admit I often wonder if I stopped blogging throughout the summer, would I ever pick it up again in the fall? But hey, I probably use my recipe archives more than anyone, so I keep growing it for me and hence, for you. Besides, how else could you experience Neva’s progression from a crazy bad dog to a crazy good dog?


neva enjoying her first paddle of the season (and staying on the board)

a storm cell lets loose over fourteeners in the distance



After spending the past several weeks witnessing reports of spring morel flushes starting in the southern US and spreading north along the East Coast and into the Midwest, and the West Coast reports chiming in throughout, we in the Rocky Mountains have begun to see our flushes. Of course, our morels are going gangbusters after the harvest is nothing more than a memory for the rest of the country, but our time is NOW. I only started foraging black morels (the kind that grow in the Colorado high country) last spring when I found them near Crested Butte by accident. Searching similar environments back home on the Colorado Front Range yielded two very separate and very lonely specimens in 2016.

When you are just starting out on your own, it’s hard to know if you aren’t finding mushrooms because it’s a bad year or they don’t grow there or you’re looking in the wrong environment or because you suck at foraging that kind of mushroom. But now I am into my second season, so I can add the dimension of time to my morel data. Yes, they came up again in Crested Butte, but better than that – Jeremy and I found a motherlode on the Front Range based on what we know about morel environments and what we scoped out last fall. Countless hours and miles of reconnaissance, tracking snowpack and precipitation history, studying satellite imagery and topographic maps have paid off because SCIENCE WORKS!


a little party of morels (4 in the picture, but 12 total)

a pretty nice haul



My foraging buddy, Erin, has also been on the prowl for black morels on the Front Range since last spring with an even worse record than my two mushrooms. She found one. We email one another about mushroom hunting in the dead of winter, contemplating places to check when the snows finally recede. We research, document, study, archive, search for, and have lengthy discussions about mushrooms. Erin and I had a foraging date set for the morning after Jeremy and I found the motherlode, but we hadn’t decided on where to go because we didn’t know where the morels were at the time. I don’t give away my mushroom spots to anyone except for Jeremy (natch) and Erin. Erin is my partner in foraging crime. We are both afflicted with this extremely nerdy obsession/sickness and we happen to be damn good hawkeye foragers. It was time for a Righteous and Proper Mountain Girls’ Foray, so I took her to the magical kingdom of morels. Biggest haul ever! [We left our pups at home because the environment would have made Banjo unhappy and I’m pretty sure high-energy Neva would have crushed every single morel underfoot, twice over, before we could even get eyes on them.]

erin harvests a morel

twofer!

and that’s just her share – what a happy girl



When you spend seven hours crawling through the woods giving yourselves eyestrain headaches and experiencing highs and lows (finding and not finding morels) like a drug addict, it’s inevitable to talk about a whole host of topics, including your plans for the morels. My early haul morels are almost always slated for recipes that I want to test and shoot for the blog. Once I meet that quota, the rest will be sautéed in butter and stored in the freezer for winter or dried for various projects. Today’s recipe came about because my neighbors’ teenage son gave me two whole pheasant breasts from a hunting trip last fall as a thank you for a career brainstorming session with me and Jeremy. Game birds pair nicely with wild mushrooms, and now I had both!

morels, bacon, salt, pepper, brandy, egg, puff pastry, shallots, water, cream, butter, pheasant breasts



I decided the recipe would have to involve diced pheasant meat because all but one of the breasts had been torn through with pellets. Pheasant and morels served in puff pastry? Yes! How about some bacon? Yes! And some cream and a splash of brandy? Aw, hell yes! After several hours of walking cross country through the mountains in a Tai Chi-esque semi-lunge looking for morels, I don’t feel like making puff pastry from scratch when I get home. These morels don’t clean themselves and these recipes most certainly don’t make and photograph themselves. It’s okay to use store-bought puff pastry, as long as it is good puff pastry. Vols au vent are basically little baskets of buttery, flaky puff pastry deliciousness with space to hold even more deliciousness of your choice. It’s like an edible cup with all the calories you’ll need for the week.

cut out the bases and rings of the vols au vent

dock the bases

brush with egg wash

layer the rings and brush the tops with egg wash



**Jump for more butter**