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neva’s year is coming

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Recipe: taiwanese fluffy pancakes (zhua bing)

Chinese New Year is Friday, February 16th this year and it’s going to kick off the Year of the Dog. Neva is particularly excited about this. Actually, she could care less, but I’ll take any excuse to celebrate our lovable canine companions. And who am I fooling? Every year is the year of the dog at our house, right?

fetching on sunny days

playing on snowy days

I had grand plans of pulling off a Chinese New Year’s Eve feast and inviting friends over to celebrate, but something in my head is telling me to lay low and keep things mellow this year. Or maybe I’m simply adjusting to my life being dictated by the schedules of several fermenting foods of late. Whatever it is, I’m trying to keep the stress levels to a minimum and sanity at a maximum.

Okay, maybe sanity at a little less than maximum. See, I always feel compelled to try at least one new Chinese recipe for the Lunar New Year. If you are a fan of Chinese scallion pancakes, these Taiwanese fluffy pancakes or zhua bing are similar, but more fun.

flour, boiling water, cold water, star anise, sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, more flour, salt, vegetable oil, chinese five spice, scallions

I didn’t grow up eating this style of pancake, but my parents would sometimes order it as a side dish at Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area when we visited my Grandma in California. Most of the time they arrived plain – made from flour, water, salt, and oil – with concentric layers of hot delicate, crisp-edged dough. I could be mistaken (likely with my poor understanding of Mandarin Chinese), but I always thought zhua bing meant “grab pancake” as in, pull it apart with your hands. This version is flavored with spices, scallions, and sesame seeds.

mix the salt and flour together

mix the boiling water in the center well

stir in the cold water

the dough will be rough and shaggy

knead until smooth and cover with damp cloth for 30 minutes

**Jump for more butter**

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**

i know a lot of good apples

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Recipe: double apple bundt cake

When I first began foraging mushrooms several years ago, I got an idea in my head that it would be cool to dry a perfect slice of porcini mushroom to send to my friend, Sumner of Spotted Dog Farm in Asheville, North Carolina, to make a pendant or bracelet. I’m not a jewelry person, but I do love Sumner’s beautiful botanical resin work, and she said she thought it was a neat custom project to try. For some reason, the porcini in cross section just didn’t appeal to me enough to pursue it. But this past spring, I had collected enough black morels to set aside the cutest and tiniest of my haul to dry. The first two that I dried in our arid Colorado mountain air were lying on their sides, on a plate. I think the sides that were touching the plate dried at a different rate and resulted in somewhat lopsided specimens. The next four I set atop toothpicks a la Game of Thrones so they could dry as symmetrically as possible. I shipped these 6 morels to Sumner, identifying the lopsided ones as “test subjects” and the other four as potential keepers. Over the summer, she made them one by one, perfecting her technique (the morel surface is covered with tiny pits which can create air bubbles in the resin) and last week, she sent me the results!

four little morels set aside to dry

dried (and much smaller)

a morel pendant (with maidenhair fern)

es perfecto!

We weren’t sure how many would turn out in the end, if any at all. But Sumner had two that she thought were the best. I purchased those from her – one for me, one for my foraging pal, Erin. And I told Sumner to keep at least one of the others for herself to wear since she was digging on the mushroom jewelry. It’s just a nerdy little thing, but I love it because it is a permanent tangible record of my mushroom adventures that I can hold in my hand. And it connects me with two mountain women whom I love and admire. I was able to let Erin choose which pendant she wanted over the weekend when we hosted a dinner party for our fellow mountain dwellers. My dinner parties always serve multiple purposes: 1) to cook for and feed my friends 2) to spend time with friends and 3) to introduce my friends to one another. I guess we can also add 4) to get Neva used to behaving around other people.

cheeseboard to start the party

sitting down to start dinner

a partied out neva still tired the next day

By the end of the evening when everyone had gone home, Neva was snoring in her doggy bed, and Jeremy washed dishes while I cleared the tables and put the leftovers away, I smiled to myself and told Jeremy that we know some really great people. We call them good apples and I’m glad they’re in my life.

Seeing as apples are in season, it’s time to pull out the baking pans, the cinnamon, the butter, and those apples. I love apple cakes that involve mixing everything together, pouring the batter into a pan, baking it, then eating it. That’s gateway baking – easy baking. These are the cakes that hook you into the more complicated recipes as we march ahead into winter. This is the kind of recipe that comes together quickly and easily for those potlucks, office gatherings, school functions, whatever it is you do that requires you to bring a cake. And it comes from Dorie Greenspan. You will want to make this double apple bundt cake.

dorie’s double apple bundt cake

walnuts, flour, sugar, butter, raisins, apple butter, apples, powdered sugar, eggs, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baing soda, salt, baking powder

whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger together

cream the sugar and butter, then beat in the eggs

**Jump for more butter**