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Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry lemon sweet rolls

Does everyone love their birth month or did I just luck out with September? While the flats remain relatively warm by my standards, the overnight temperatures dipped below freezing over the weekend here in the mountains. Morning walks with Neva have been pleasantly chilly for the past few days and the gold aspens light up like torches in the autumn sun. Jeremy noted that fall is our shortest season. I reminded him that technically all of the seasons are about the same length, but I knew what he meant. Winter is the longest season for us – basically from October to May – as long as there is snow. Summer is the next longest from June or July to September (when there isn’t much snow). Spring in the mountains is just plain weird because it’s all melty and muddy, usually from May to June or June to July. It’s the season of trashing your gear. True fall is cooler weather, golden aspen, and clear ground. As soon as there is enough snow to ski, it’s “winter”. Sometimes fall is as short as 3 weeks if summer and winter get a little greedy on each end. But I love it, because it’s so perfect for high country hikes, long trail runs, and mountain bike rides without the crowds. I think of autumn as that sweet spot.

Neva is getting spayed this week, just before she turns 6 months old. I was told to restrict her activities, as in – very short walks – for the two weeks after the surgery. I’m just a little nervous because after Kaweah was spayed, the Cornell Veterinary Hospital instructed us not to let her jump and of course, the first thing she did when we picked her up was to try jumping into the car. She cried, then tried to jump into the car again. Mainly, I don’t want Neva to be scared or to hate Doc Newton after the procedure is done. In anticipation of her upcoming convalescence period, we decided to take her up our favorite local trail in the Indian Peaks this weekend – to Pawnee Pass. We both had headaches thanks to lack of sleep and chilly gusts of wind slapping us around. Summer makes you soft because winds like that are considered “breezy” around these parts in winter. But Neva was happy and so we forged ahead. The winds were particularly nasty and cold at the pass (this happened a year ago on our backpack, too), so we took a quick snap for posterity and booked it on outta there.

on the way up

at the pass with our little hiker pup

almost to the trailhead it was warm enough for a swim

The good news is that Neva has taken two 30-minute car rides on windy roads with dramamine and hasn’t puked! She wasn’t happy about the rides, but we suspect once she’s had enough car rides without puking, she’ll start to associate the car with happier times. Also, she was VERY good on the hike wearing her chest harness despite wanting to chase after ALL of the marmots and pikas above treeline (60% of the hike is above treeline). Neva is still very much a puppy, but I think she just might become a good dog some day.

colorful sunset over our local mountains

mammata lit just before sunrise

This seasonal cool down means I’m able to turn the oven on to bake, roast, and feel normal again. Of course, all I could think about for the past several weeks were ways to use huckleberries and many of those recipes involved baking. While there are a handful of huckleberry recipes out there on the interwebs, you’ll find a hundred blueberry recipes for every huckleberry recipe. Something that had been on my radar for a while was blueberry lemon sweet rolls, but then I thought – HUCKLEBERRY lemon sweet rolls is where it’s at. First, start by making the dough.

for the dough: milk, water, egg, salt, sugar, vanilla extract, flour, butter, more butter, yeast

warm the milk and water to 115°f (close enough)

sprinkle the yeast and a teaspoon of sugar over the liquid

mix the sugar, salt, and flour

mix the egg, vanilla extract, and melted butter into the liquid

combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients

knead until smooth

cover in an oiled bowl and let rise

**Jump for more butter**

of backpacks, birthdays, and berries

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry chantilly cake

This past weekend we ventured out into the Colorado high country with Neva for her very first backpacking trip. Even though Jeremy and I have been backpacking together for 21 years, it was a bigger deal for us than it was for her. Do we bring a toy? We should probably pack a towel in case she goes swimming or gets filthy. Be sure to pack the poop bags and poop bottle… Don’t forget the halti collar. We did attempt to strap a dog pack on her at home so she could get used to wearing one and perhaps carry some of her own things. But Kaweah’s old packs – cinched to the tightest setting – practically slid off of Neva who is not only smaller and skinnier, but still a puppy. So it really felt like a hike to Neva since we were the ones carrying the packs and all of her accessories.

jeremy escorts little miss neva up the trail

taking the footbridge across the stream

fireweed turning a brilliant red

our camp just below the continental divide

Once we settled on a place to set up camp, we strung some utility cord between two trees (camp required that we at least be near krumholtz), slapped a carabiner on it, and tethered Neva to the run with her leash. It was the only way we could get anything done before dark. She immediately wrapped herself around one tree, and then the other tree. She wrapped the leash around herself in four different ways. Eventually, Neva just ran back and forth sniffing and playing with sticks. Neva was supercharged with no signs of letting up. At dusk, we could hear elk bugling in the valley to our north. By the time it was dark, we brought the pup into the tent for the night. She marched right to the foot of the tent and curled up into a little ball on our sleeping bags, falling sound asleep.

jeremy reads the map while the milky way adorns the night sky

predawn color on the horizon and twilight reflected on the lake

neva on her tether while we pack up camp

on the way out, we stopped to sample a few of the ripe huckleberries and whortleberries

lots of pretty cascades

Overall, Neva did well on the backpack and seemed to enjoy everything except the halti collar and the lack of sweet sweet freedom. Once home, she slept for a long time. Being an adventure pup is hard work! While she slept, we unpacked and sorted our gear. “So what would you like for dinner on your birthday?” I asked Jeremy. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to tell me what he really likes because he doesn’t want to put me to any trouble. That and I think Jeremy draws a blank when you ask him things like, “What’s your favorite food?” or “What movie should we rent?” Eventually he muttered something like steak or salmon – just something simple. I can do simple. In my culture (or maybe it’s just my family?) it’s bad luck to celebrate birthdays early, so I planned for a special Monday dinner. We started with things I know he loves, brie and fig jam, Kumamoto oysters with bubbles. For dinner, we kept it simple: grilled ribeye steaks topped with chanterelles sautéed in butter and garlic and a side of local corn and zucchini.

oysters and bubbles

And then there was dessert. Over the summer, whenever my parents had us to their place for dinner, I would be tasked with bringing dessert since I do those things. On occasion, I came up short on time and went to the local Whole Foods to pick up one of those mini 4-inch cakes. My favorites were the little boozy adult cakes (adult because of the booze, not because they were “adult” cakes) like the sidecar or the daiquiri. As I walked toward the cake counter, a young woman was scooping cake into little cups for people to sample. I usually ignore the samples, but I heard her say “peach chantilly cake” and I turned on my heel to get a taste. Lovely, light, fruity – it has a mascarpone frosting instead of the usual buttercream. This would be great with huckleberries or any berry.

So I found a copycat recipe online and went from there. Here’s the thing. I hated the cake part. The frosting was great, the fruity part was great, but the cake was heavy, oily, coarse crumbed. Everyone who ate it said it was good, but I felt the texture was wrong and the flavor was mediocre at best. For Jeremy’s birthday cake, I replaced the cake component with my go-to chiffon cake – spongy, soft, light, yet durable – and the result was perfection. The recipe I give at the bottom of the post has my chiffon cake instead of the original cake, but the photos in this post are of the original cake recipe. If you want photos of the chiffon cake process, you can reference this post sans lemon juice.

sugar, flour, vanilla, vinegar, butter, baking powder, baking soda, salt, coconut oil, milk, buttermilk, eggs

whisk the dry ingredients together

add milk, buttermilk, vanilla, and vinegar to the eggs

stir in the melted butter and coconut oil

**Jump for more butter**

september september

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry semifreddo

September’s arrival means it is time for me to resume posting twice a week now that my parents have flown home to Virginia, our sweet little Neva appears to be happy with her daily routine, I have heaps of recipes to share, and it looks as if the huckleberries are nearing the end of their season. My huckleberry partner in crime, Erin, is on a 12-day subsistence canoe trip in Alaska. She expressed great concern over missing the height of huck season here, so I assured her if the berries looked to be ending before her return, I’d pick some for her.

when this happens, we know she is done chasing tennis balls

sushi lunch with mom and dad the day before they flew home

finally the rains came – some nice relief

Last year was the first year Erin and I really foraged huckleberries, and it happened to be a long and fruitful season starting in early August and lasting deep into September. It was almost 2 straight months of precious, beautiful huckleberries. They were growing everywhere, so we were able to canvas miles and miles of trails in our mountain range to determine where there were a few hucks, where there were decent hucks, and of course – the motherlode. If you think foragers are jerks about not sharing their mushroom spots, don’t even *think* of asking where my huckleberry patches are.

snurple as snurple can be

Before you can pick a huckleberry, several events have to take place. First, there have to be huckleberry plants. Luckily, huckleberry plants carpet the mountains where I live. Next, they have to produce flowers – tiny bell-shaped, light pink lanterns that hang from underneath the leaves. Then the flowers have to be pollinated. Once pollinated, the flowers eventually shrivel up and a green berry will grow in its place. Erin and I call these green peas. And if all goes well – the right amount of sunlight, rain, and proper temperatures – those green peas turn red, then purple, then SNURPLE. But lots of things can derail the process. We monitored the huckleberries along several trails this summer, reporting to one another on flowers and green peas. It was looking promising until we began to notice some ghosts (dried up white berries that are essentially dead green peas), and then more ghosts, and then a lot of ghosts.

But the motherlode had purple hucks dangling like cute little earrings that you could only see if you really looked, albeit there were about a quarter as many as there were the previous year. And then we discovered motherlode 2 (ML2), which has supplied the bulk of my huck harvest this season. I went back to check on the original motherlode (ML1) this morning and discovered the berries were done – or had gone ghost. My heart broke a little as I walked the perimeter patches and then headed back down the trail. Hopefully next summer will be a better berry season and I’ll have trained Neva to be a good dog while we forage. Right now, she eats the huckleberries. It’s very cute for the first minute. Maybe Banjo can teach her to be a good forage dog and curl up under a tree for a nap.

I believe this is the beginning of the end of huck season. There is a tray full of clean hucks in the freezer that I shall bag up to give to Erin when she comes home. That’s not something I would hand over to just anyone. The huckleberry sisterhood is a strong bond. I’m also going to point her to this recipe for huckleberry semifreddo, which is huckle-licious and gluten-free. Substitute any berry for the hucks (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries), but the huck is a truly special berry.

huckleberries, egg whites, egg yolks, mascarpone cheese, salt, cream of tartar, lemon juice, sugar, cream, milk

place the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor

purée until smooth

**Jump for more butter**