huckleberry crisp porcini mushroom lasagne fig and brandy jam fried vietnamese spring rolls (cha gio)


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it’s a feeling

August 20th, 2014

Recipe: vietnamese fried spring rolls (cha gio)

All signs point to “Back to School”. Crested Butte seemed to be emptying out this past weekend and our trail run Monday morning was particularly devoid of the usual summer gamut of hikers, runners, and bikers. We are now back home in the Front Range, navigating around freshmen and their parents as they arrive at the university. Folks are wrapping up their summer vacations and the commuter buses will be running at capacity once again. We spied a single aspen that had gone gold amidst a sea of green on our drive from Crested Butte to Nederland. Someone always jumps the gun, but fall is not far off for the mountains where splashes of red and yellow are already dotting the understory like little jewels. Speaking of little jewels, we’re seeing many wild berries ripening in the high country, too!


raspberries

my favorites: huckleberries

wild strawberries



The berries I find in the mountains are precious to me. No one tends to these plants. No one waters them. No one protects them from pests. No one throws blankets over them when there is an overnight freeze. And yet these wild and hardy plants produce the most intensely flavored little fruits. Treasures. When you explore the mountains year-round, you gain an appreciation for the struggles that all mountain life endures – especially when you pop a perfectly sweet and tart sun-warmed berry into your mouth. It is a short-lived berry season. The approach of fall looms large as my mind turns back to the kitchen, where it is starting to feel comfortable enough to cook. Let’s make some Vietnamese spring rolls or cha gio.

ground pork, shrimp, carrot, bean thread (cellophane) noodles, salt, pepper, egg, garlic, shallot, fish sauce, rice paper



While I love fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, I am a huge sucker for crisp fried things. That’s probably part of my motivation to keep active! The first time I had the fried Vietnamese spring rolls, was when our Vietnamese server misunderstood my order for grilled pork bun (rice noodle vermicelli) and brought me the grilled pork and egg roll combo bun instead. SO GOOD! I didn’t know such a thing existed.

chop the cellophane noodles with scissors

the filling: chopped cellophane noodles, minced shallots, shredded carrot, ground pork, chopped shrimp, fish sauce, beaten egg, salt, pepper, minced garlic

place all of the filling ingredients in a bowl

mix it together



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triple pass lollipop unicorn

August 17th, 2014

Recipe: brie fig apple prosciutto sandwich

It’s not like anyone needs a reason to come to Crested Butte, Colorado, but this past week was marked on our calendar months ago. It all began when Jeremy ran into our friend in line at a coffee shop last fall. Brad has a remarkable talent for conveying massive amounts of information in a ridiculously short amount of time with boundless enthusiasm. In the three minutes he chatted with Jeremy, Brad convinced him to take up ultra running (and he also discussed about a dozen other topics). The Summer GT (Grand Traverse) was held on Saturday starting in Crested Butte and ending in Aspen – the same 40-mile overland route that the Winter GT Ski Mountaineering race follows, but this time on foot or mountain bike. I asked Brad if he was planning to run the Summer GT, but that crazy man ran the Fat Dog 120 this weekend in British Columbia (120 miles, 29,000 feet of climb).

We’ve both been training since the local trails began melting out in April (although we continued backcountry skiing into late May – yeehaw!). Jeremy was training for the Grand Traverse, and I was just training for the heck of it. A few weeks before the GT, Jeremy developed runner’s knee. He discovered the hard way that running 20 miles on runner’s knee makes for much worse runner’s knee. He rested, iced, got a PT band, and tried to recover. Ultimately, he (correctly) determined that it would be unwise to run the GT this year. Instead, we took a week off from training and have been enjoying our time in wonderful Crested Butte.


i made chocolate mousse for our neighbors’ dinner party

great food, great wines, great friends



We’re not just wining and dining though. Summer is that magnificent ephemeral time in the mountains that should not be passed over if you can help it. The other day we went for a 17-mile hike to explore parts of the high country that were new to us. I call it the triple pass lollipop unicorn hike because it gains three mountain passes and the route in map view looks like a lollipop with a unicorn horn. Plus, the hike is worthy of a title like triple pass lollipop unicorn hike, because it’s full of All The Good Things. The views and terrain were absolutely stunning – even the parts where the trail disappeared. The wildflowers are full-on incredible above 12,000 feet right now.

climbing up out of copper creek valley

pass #1: triangle pass (12,800 ft.) with conundrum basin in the background (leading to aspen)

pass #2: copper pass (12,400 ft.)

alpine wildflowers and the maroon bells in the distance (also leading to aspen)

elephant heads standing out among the blooms

the wider view of the high country

pass #3: east maroon pass (11,800 ft.)

copper lake basin



After hours upon hours of beauty, adventure, and exertion, we arrive at the trailhead and begin the drive home. The start of the hike feels like it was yesterday. In the car, I’ll notice a mixture of dirt, sweat, and sunblock is plastered on my skin. We are thirsty, hungry, tired, dirty. We smell awful, too. Once home, the trail runners get the hose and deck treatment. Our filthy, stinky clothes go straight into the laundry basket by the door to avoid tracking dirt around the house. Then we each drink a biiiiiiiig glass of water (or two) to rehydrate ourselves and our joints. If we are gross beyond what we can tolerate, a shower is in order, otherwise I head straight to the refrigerator to make something to eat. Pretty much anything will taste fantastic after a big hike, but this sandwich is guaranteed to be taste ultra-fantastic.

prosciutto, arugula, ciabatta rolls, brie, fig jam, green apple



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it’s such a perfect day

August 13th, 2014

Recipe: huckleberry sorbet

It was one of those days where everything could go right, everything could go wrong, or everything could go somewhere in between. And for us, it started well before “the day” began when our alarms sounded at 2 am. The plan was to go for a hike. More precisely, we were going to hike a fourteener. For non-hikers and non-Coloradoans, it means hiking a peak over 14,000 feet high. It’s a thing here in Colorado – hiking fourteeners – because we have quite a few of them (53). We don’t actually care about bagging peaks as much as we do hiking and exploring beautiful high country. The main thing about this fourteener was getting there.


sunrise on the trail

a purplish western yellow paintbrush (castilleja occidentalis) at 12,500 feet



San Luis Peak is not remarkable for its elevation (14,014 feet, the 51st highest in the state) nor for its climb (it’s a class 1 hike), but rather for being the toughest trailhead to get to with about 2 hours travel on 30 miles of dirt road (in the dark). It is in the middle of beautiful nowhere. The biggest concern about a fourteener or any high point in western Colorado is that you don’t want to be up there when lightning strikes. The bulk of our failed summit attempts are due to being turned around by the weather. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are the norm in Colorado’s mountains and lightning deaths are not uncommon. That means you want to summit well before noon (or earlier if storms are forecast to develop earlier than usual), which translates into an early start. Early starts are what I am all about because I prefer cooler temperatures, avoiding sun exposure as much as possible, and not getting struck by lightning. That’s why we left the house at 2:30 in the morning so we could start hiking at 5:30.

pikas (lagomorphs) live at high elevations in the rocks and don’t hibernate

jeremy snacks on some homemade zucchini bread



On the 3-hour drive, we saw several bright shooting stars (it was the height of the Perseids meteor shower) despite a full moon and driving with our high-beams on. Pretty fantastic! The trailhead was empty except for one truck, which is rare for a fourteener trailhead in summer in Colorado – even on a weekday. We made our way up the valley under moonlight and headlamps until the skies brightened enough to see the trail unaided. Beaver ponds dammed much of the length of Stewart Creek and we spotted some beavers making home repairs and swimming in their ponds. Wildflowers flanked the trail for the first 5.5 miles and marmots and pikas whistled and chirped warnings to one another as we approached their habitat. Most of the climb is crammed into the last mile and a half of trail, but it was good trail with excellent scenery.

benchmark

view from the top

fueling up before heading back down

there’s a nice big drop off the west side of the summit



We didn’t dilly dally on the summit for long, mainly because there was a large dark cloud that had materialized out of thin air (literally – ha!) over the peak in the last ten minutes of our ascent. The air quality was poor compared to our typical crystal clear clean Colorado air, due to increased water vapor in the air from our monsoonal patterns (hence the big clouds popping up over the high peaks). I like summits for their unsurpassed views, but when you get to 14,000 feet the landscape is mostly rock and dirt which isn’t nearly as interesting to me without the presence of plants. On our way out, Jeremy and I paused for an early lunch break at the headwall of the basin leading to the summit. We sat in the rock-strewn meadowy slopes dotted with colorful wildflowers and particularly ambitious mushrooms, watching a herd of deer pick their way up the basin along a splashing stream of snow melt. “It’s such a perfect day,” Jeremy started softly. I turned to him, my mouth full of apple, singing, “I’m glad I spent it with you.”

It’s all relative. I realize and accept (after some friends have told me so) that my idea of a perfect day is someone else’s idea of pure hell. Just like the very thought of shopping all day in a city – or worse, the suburbs – would make me homicidal. No, I’d much rather hit the trails before sunrise and pick huckleberries with a like-minded friend who loves to hike in the mountains as much as I do.


erin picks ripe huckleberries

frozen hucks from last year’s crop



The huckleberries are taking their time ripening up, but they will get there. I picked hucks well into mid-September last year. I’m finding more and more scattered groups with red to dark purple berries, but there isn’t enough to really pick a bunch and still leave plenty for the birds and bears right now. A couple of months ago I was wringing my hands over what to do with my last 1.5 pounds of frozen huckleberries when I finally decided to make the leap and try huckleberry sorbet. It required a pound of the precious berries.

sugar, water, lemon, corn syrup, and a pound of huckleberries



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