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better than good enough

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Recipe: fried polenta and porcini on roasted carrot purée

We had a busier than usual schedule last week because Jeremy was hosting his astrophysics retreat. This was his third one, but it seemed more harried than usual because of the additional puppy-wrangling. Without going into too much detail, the retreat is an “unconference” that eschews the traditional scientific conference format. It is a small gathering of select (young) experts in astrophysics who come together for 4 days of intense, high-powered brainstorming for the love of science. Running any sort of workshop or conference is exhausting, but for someone like Jeremy – my dearest introvert – it is doubly so. Once he had caught up on sleep and other work, I suggested we spend a relaxing evening under the stars together… with Neva… in a tent.


neva tries out the sleeping bags as the sun goes down



Actually, this was just a continuation of puppy training. The plan is to go backpacking this fall with the pup, but first we need her to get used to being in a tent. When our neighbor’s kids were little, they used to camp in a tent on their deck because the youngest would always get scared before 9 pm and run back into the house. I thought this could work for Neva, too. We could camp on the deck and if she got unruly or upset, we would bail and go inside. But there was no need to abandon ship because she was very sweet and cuddly throughout the night. She probably slept better than either of the humans. I think this backpacking thing just might work.

it’s a loungy puppy life

if we’re going to camp out, we may as well eat outside, too

blue moon rising

ready for zip up and lights out



Jeremy’s astrophysics retreat takes place in Boulder with the exception of one day held at our house in the mountains. My minor contribution is to help host the participants which includes a sit down dinner. Living outside of Boulder, we are accustomed to accommodating the restricted diets of our friends, but I got a stumper in this group: gluten-free vegetarian. In my opinion, gluten-free is pretty easy and vegetarian isn’t terrible, but the combination really whittled down my options. There were two ideals I had to balance: 1) that not serving meat to your guests is rude (per Chinese tradition) and 2) it is unacceptable to serve sub-par food to vegetarians. But I was up for the challenge, particularly because the one guest who was gluten-free vegetarian happens to be a genuinely nice and good person. Luckily, porcini are in season NOW.

here’s a pretty specimen (plus one in the background)

two buddies chilling out off trail



The idea was to serve something that everyone could enjoy and then the omnivores could have some kind of animal added to their dish. I decided to go with fried polenta cakes and pan-seared porcini. It was easy enough to hike up into the mountains to nab some choice mushrooms only because I knew they were flushing and I knew exactly where to look. For some extra color, I thought a nice roasted carrot purée would brighten the plate and lend some sweetness to the dish.

white wine, olive oil, vegetable oil, carrots, polenta, butter, thyme, salt, porcini



I started the day before, as I didn’t want to heat up the house cooking all day before dinner. I made the polenta and then pressed it into a baking dish to cool and solidify. A loaf pan works too if you want to slice your polenta that way. Once the polenta had set (about an hour or so), I popped it into the refrigerator to chill.

stir the polenta into the boiling water

when the polenta is done, stir in a pat of butter

pressed into a baking dish to cool



**Jump for more butter**

splash and dash

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Recipe: miso peanut butter vegetable dip

We now have a 10 week old puppy who consistently sits to ask for things like food, water, toys, to be let out of her crate, to have a ball tossed, to be let back inside, to be petted. You may wonder why she has to request water – why we don’t have a bowl lying around for her to take drinks as needed… After Neva takes a big drink, she loves to place her paw on the side of the dish and tip the whole thing over. It was funny the first time and not as funny the next 10 times. But she’s a lab and true to her breed, she loves the water. We wanted to get her swimming, but right now our lakes are cold with snow melt and she hasn’t received her leptospirosis vaccinations yet (they start in a couple of weeks). So we’re taking baby steps starting with Kaweah’s old baby pool. Kaweah never cared much for it (she was a hardcore girl – she wanted her frozen mountain lakes), but it’s perfect for Neva at this stage on a hot, sunny day.


jeremy introduces her to ankle-deep water

she warmed up to it when we tossed in her spiky ball

really getting into the fun with a flying leap



Everything was great until Neva fetched the ball, dropped the ball, and promptly squatted to relieve herself in the pool. We are still getting to know Neva’s bladder schedule, which is to say, we still have occasional accidents. But it’s all a big learning curve – which food works best for her digestion, what time of day is best for training, when she needs naps and when she needs play. It’s hard to believe we have only had Neva for two weeks because it feels like months.

running her brains out in a field

tired and plopped down in the middle of the trail



Jeremy and I are trying our best to do right by the puppy’s training as well as live our lives (sleep, eat, get work done). It feels as if we aren’t succeeding at any of it. For the first week, I wore the same clothes for days in a row because I couldn’t see the point of putting something clean on only to get dogged up again. But you can’t let a puppy put the kibosh on everything. Over the weekend, a good childhood friend came into town for a conference – so we had her and two other close mutual childhood friends over for dinner. I even showered and wore clean clothes! I figured, if I could manage to put dinner on the table, then we could declare the night a victory. I missed out on half of the conversations because Jeremy and I tag-teamed supervising the puppy, but it was wonderful to spend time catching up, especially since I hadn’t seen the out-of-town friend in over 20 years.

a toast to reunions



Summer is when entertaining at our house really gets underway. The only folks who visit in winter are the ones who truly love winter and the ones who don’t know any better. Our short mountain summers are green and pleasant, which make for great dinner parties, grilling, and views from the deck. Typically, I like to experiment with different recipes, but lately – because of the puppy vortex and in the interest of my own sanity – I’m sticking with super simple menus. One thing I love to serve when the weather turns warm is crudités with dip, but sometimes I tire of sour cream or mayonnaise dips. A few weeks ago I tried a couple of miso-based dips and really fell in love with this miso peanut butter dip. It’s just the right salty and sweet to go with a variety of fresh vegetables. And it’s easy.

peanut butter, white miso paste, mirin, rice vinegar, sake, honey



**Jump for more butter**

the daytime of the night

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Recipe: chinese black bean ribs

We made a quick trip out to Crested Butte this past weekend to check on our place and to sample some of the four plus feet of snow they received in the two weeks prior. It was made even shorter because we lost an hour to Daylight Saving Time. But I figure it’s all a wash – lose and hour here, gain an hour there. On the road to CB, I asked Jeremy if he liked Daylight Saving Time. A good many people rail against it each year, but I could go either way. “Oh yes, I love it,” he nodded as we drove over Monarch Pass. “I love to have enough light after work to grab a quick ski or run before sunset.”

The loss of an hour in exchange for longer evening light and changing all of our analog wall clocks is worth it to me. It’s like waking up from the long dark slumber. My mind bounces to spring skiing, trail running, HUCKLEBERRIES!, alpine hikes, wildflowers, waterfalls, and summer thunderstorms. Colorado is once again sitting under sun and blue skies, so it really feels like spring has given winter the boot. Subtle shifts in our diurnal temperature cycle means melt in the afternoon that refreezes into ice come morning. For now, it is still technically winter and so I plan to see it through to the end.


bubbles the goldfish at the copper mountain donut shop

skate skiing the lovely nordic trails in crested butte

sastrugi and shadows at sunset



For such a short trip to Crested Butte, I didn’t want to bother with cooking anything elaborate – or cooking anything at all! I decided to make it easy on both of us and bring leftovers from the week. That way we could reheat our food without having to scrub the kitchen down or do tons of dishes. One of the dishes I brought was Chinese-style black bean ribs. Despite the balmy weather, we still dropped below zero (°F) overnight, which meant it was already in the teens when we got home from skate skiing. So a hot bowl of steamed rice topped with these tender stewed baby back ribs was the perfect thing to warm our bellies.

green onions, cilantro, garlic, baby back ribs (cut)

sake, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, black bean garlic sauce, vegetable oil, oyster sauce

measured and prepped



**Jump for more butter**