chinese orange beef toasted coconut custard tart cottage pie with beef and carrots apple cider caramel ice cream w apple cider caramel swirl

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welcome autumn overlords

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Recipe: huckleberry shrub and huck gin fizz cocktail

I love that autumn in the Colorado Rocky Mountains starts on time according to the calendar. Much of the country is still tapering off from summer. When I was growing up in southern Virginia, I was quite put out by fall’s tardiness. It was supposed to arrive on or around my birthday, and yet it was still hot and miserable riding home on the school bus in late September. It’s like waiting for a guest to arrive who is beyond fashionably late. Or perhaps more appropriately it was me wishing summer would get the hint and leave already. Here in the Rockies, I feel that summer is just the right amount of time. I know this isn’t the popular sentiment regarding summer, but I’m good with that. Fall is even shorter than summer despite having two acts. The first act (in my mind) is the fall colors. It is that wondrous period of two to three – and possibly four – weeks when the aspens transition from green to fiery hues and the mountains strut their stuff on the runway. That’s going on right now and how!

mist and clouds, big mountains, golden aspens, and spots of sunlight

how many aspen leaves, i wonder

sunrise on the autumn equinox

sunrise rainbow over the town of crested butte

quintessential colorado fall

The second act involves tree trunks and branches stripped of leaves, winds, and sometimes rain. It’s a good time for trail running in tights, cooking stews and roasting vegetables, and changing to flannel sheets. And then fall ends when it really starts to snow – which we (all of the snow enthusiasts) hope will be as early as possible. I actually like that second act too, despite its visual dreariness, because it means I can stop obsessing about where the wildflowers are blooming and where the aspens are nearing peak and whether the huckleberries are ripe. But I shall still obsess about huckleberries… I periodically open my chest freezer in the basement and run a loving hand across the several bags of frozen huckleberries from this summer’s bounty. Huckleberries rank fairly high on the happiness scale for me. They are up there with Kaweah, Jeremy, the mountains, skiing, sushi. One of my favorite ways to preserve the fruits of summer is to make a shrub – an acidulated beverage made of three ingredients: fruit, sugar, and vinegar.

my number one all-time favoritest berries in the world

huckleberries, sugar, and champagne vinegar

place the berries in a food processor

pulse the blade a few times to chop them up

**Jump for more butter**

the summer-autumn pendulum

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Recipe: huckleberry syrup

Little pockets of mountain aspens are starting to light up around Colorado. I noticed this as we drove from Crested Butte back to the Front Range – brilliant sparks of gold or red in a sea of green. Every year without fail, some nature photographer will start spouting on about the colors being early and every year the colors are on time. Except last year – they were late and got walloped by early snows. I’ve got my eye on the local stands and once things start to move, it’s time for me to hit the road. In the meantime there has been plenty to do before the fall shoot commences.

in the hall of colors

autumn is my favorite season

So that freeze did come as predicted. It also brought our first snowfall of the season by morning. While it was nothing skiable, it was still gorgeous, wonderful snow. We had a backpacking permit for that morning and I could tell Jeremy was fretting over the weather. Driving up to the trailhead, we emerged out of the cold, grey, wintery world into blue skies, strong sunshine, and an inverted snowline! The snow ended above 10,000 feet (but there was also fresh snow on the high peaks above 12,500 feet). It was quite chilly, but we were feeling better about the trip.

first snowfall on our deck

inverted snowline: snow below, no snow above

lunch break with marmots, porcini (growing nearby), and a lovely view

From our lunch spot, we looked east, beyond the mountains where Boulder and Denver usually punctuate the distant landscape. That morning, the Great Plains had filled up with clouds like a sudsy bubble bath in a tub. We were in another world in the mountains. I love inversions. And while it was delightful to have such clear weather overhead, what the photos don’t tell you is how hellish the winds were above treeline. On the other side of Pawnee Pass, the trail drops steeply into the rocky headwall of a cirque. That wasn’t so bad except for slicks of ice and violent gusts up to 45 mph pushing us this way and that. The funnel-shape of that section seemed to focus all of the thermodynamic anger of the atmosphere.

pawnee pass

the descent toward pawnee lake in the distance

it was much nicer in the trees

finally in camp by sunset

After climbing 2100 feet to the pass, we dropped 3600 feet past beautiful Pawnee Lake through huckleberry-strewn hillslopes and forests. I’m happy to report that most of the huckleberries survived the freeze (but not all). Our route navigated big sunny meadows with giant boulders and downed trees scattered like spilled matchsticks from the previous winter’s avalanches. I found a place I dubbed Raspberry Central for all of the wild raspberry canes drooping with heavy, deep red, sweet berries. Once we passed the low point of the whole trip (8900 feet), we followed Buchanan Creek up-valley until we found a secluded site away from the trail, with good access to water, 11 miles from our start.

stuff we bring on no-cook trips

more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at on this trail

on buchanan pass in even worse wind conditions

taking a break to fuel up for the last climb

I used to have trouble sleeping for more than an hour at a time in the backcountry, but these days I can manage a good 4-6 hours straight. The key is to be so exhausted that you just sleep through anything. We shook the ice off our tent before dawn and pointed ourselves east toward Buchanan Pass in sub-freezing temperatures. When we reached Fox Park, the winds began to pick up. As we rose out of the beautiful basin and out of the protection of the trees, the winds unleashed their full fury the closer we got to the pass. The gusts were even stronger than the day before, forcing us to stumble like drunkards in 60 mph gusts that threw us right, left, forward, and backward. In contrast, the other side of the pass was calm, quiet, and warm. By trip’s end we had 26.2 miles under our feet and 6500 feet of climb/descent.

When we got home, we dutifully sorted our gear, set the tent up to dry, and put things away. I only had enough energy to shower and eat half my dinner before I bonked face-first onto the bed yelling, “I love my pillow!” In the morning, my stomach was grumbling on empty and my brain was already focused on what to make for breakfast – because it was Jeremy’s birthday! Bacon. He loves bacon. And eggs. He likes eggs. And pancakes with… huckleberry syrup. That’s what birthdays are all about – happy things.

sugar, water, huckleberries

**Jump for more butter**

that happy place

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Recipe: thai sweet chili sauce

Between trail runs, huckleberry picking, dinner parties, work, and other stuff, we managed to carve out a little weekend for a backpack out of Crested Butte. It had been on the calendar for a couple of months when last week we got wind of an advertising stunt by a “beer” (I use the term loosely) company to be held in the town of Crested Butte for the very same weekend. I emailed Jeremy and asked if he still wanted to go. He replied that no one attending that event was going to be anywhere near the backcountry. So true. So thankfully true.

hiking up from schofield park

we dropped our packs at a junction and ran this quick detour to get a view into hasley basin

at the junction below frigid air pass

We had not hiked out of Schofield Park before, but were familiar with it as a potential emergency “exit” from a previous backpack we did in 2005. Back then we began the Four Pass Loop out of Aspen. It is likely one of the most popular backpacks in the state of Colorado. The route crosses four 12,000+ foot passes in roughly 24-26 miles (depending on where you start and end) and loops around the iconic Maroon Bells through some of the most stunning high country you could imagine. From the Crested Butte side, you can access the loop from Schofield Park. Jeremy and I hiked a few miles of new (to us) trail before linking up with the Four Pass Loop and heading up to Frigid Air Pass. As we rounded a boulder and gained a small bench in the terrain, a little tarn next to a trail junction sign was immediately familiar. I blinked back tears. The last time we were here, Kaweah was with us on her very first backpack. I took a photo of her resting at the base of the sign. The significance was that she was actually resting. She never stopped charging ahead until we set up camp for the day. Then she would curl up, fall asleep, and snore loud enough to scare away the bears.

celebrate wilderness

fireweed looking fiery! autumn is coming

icy cold stream crossings felt great on sore feet

It’s been over two years since our last backpacking trip as Kaweah’s care demanded more attention and time. Our preference is to backpack before or after the crowds of summer. The backcountry becomes that much more enjoyable when we have it to ourselves. Backpacking is one logical extension of hiking. Trail running is another extension of hiking, but in a different direction. Still, all three share the same goal for me – to travel the high country. I feel better when I spend time hiking or running through mountain forests up above treeline and into the alpine meadows. It makes me stronger, clarifies my thoughts, brings me tremendous joy.

jeremy on frigid air pass overlooking fravert basin

looking back toward the maroon bells (on the left)

at geneva lake basin (snowmass mountain on the right)

On the trail, we plucked juicy red raspberries, one enormous sun-warmed wild strawberry (enormous for a wild strawberry, but smaller than a dime), plump twisted stalk berries, and several huckleberries to nosh as we hiked toward our destination at the lake. Once in camp, I was more than happy to get off my feet and fall asleep to a rising moon and the sound of small animals scampering around our tent. I used to stay awake all night in my early days of backpacking, listening for bears, deer, elk, porcupine, mice, anything that would come poking (and nibbling) around camp. Maybe it’s the impenetrable bear canister or the long miles of the day caught up to my body or getting older, but sleep comes easier. Maybe I’m just happier.

my view from the tent

ready for a well-deserved sleep

delicate frost in the morning

Or maybe it was the morning frost that coated all of the plants at lake level? Or MAYBE it was the fact that I had packed jalapeño potato chips on this trip? In summer, we like to do no-cook backpacks if the trip is less than 3 days. It means no stove, no fuel, no cook pot, no clean up. Jeremy tends to select sweet snacks like chocolate, fruity chewy candy, cookies. I go for the savory snacks: crackers, salami, and jalapeño potato chips (Tim’s Cascade is the best brand, just ask Diane). Salt is what I crave on the trail. I must have it! But the spicy is that added bonus. Spicy is happiness. I recently learned to make some incredibly easy happiness – Thai sweet chili sauce – which just makes things even MORE happy.

water, sugar, cornstarch, salt, rice vinegar, water, garlic, thai chilis, fresno chilis

**Jump for more butter**