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February 16th, 2015

Recipe: sichuan pork wontons

When the weekend started, I wasn’t sure how things were going to pan out. We always have a plan in place – usually a form of weather-dependent exercise, lofty goals to clean some part of the house, and work. Because it has been so disturbingly warm, my usual ski tour with Erin turned into a snirt (snow/dirt) hike. Making our way up the ice-slicked trail, we agreed that despite the suckage of the snow conditions, it was nice to get outside. Banjo agreed. Before we set off in the morning, he spun about in dizzying white fluffy circles on the mudroom floor, filled with giddy anticipation of the adventure to come. Happy dogs can’t lie.


my weekly date with erin and banjo

such a good boy



The dearth of snowfall this season didn’t deter me and Jeremy from nabbing some new fat skis on super sale recently. We took them into town for binding mounts and new ski prep. Picking the skis up from the mountaineering store, I signed the credit card receipt and smiled at the cashier, “Do your snow dance!” and stepped outside into 65°F and bright sun. The forecast was sunshine and warmth until Sunday, when we would get some snow. We weren’t sure how much. It could go either way.

my new (very fun) skis

the start of something beautiful

15 inches of fresh powder monday morning



But before the snow would come, we took a day – Valentine’s Day – to drive two and a half hours south onto the flats. You know it has to be something important to make us leave the mountains on a weekend. This was very important. We spent 30 minutes meeting several very sweet dogs. If all goes well, we’ll be filling that dog-shaped hole in our hearts with a puppy in early May.

On the return drive home, we passed through Denver where I stopped by the big Asian grocery store (HMart) to get ingredients for our traditional Chinese New Year feast. I try to stick to my grocery list, but as I walked the aisles packed to the hilt with all manner of sauces, vegetables, frozen foods, and pickled things, I started cobbling together our weekly menu as well. We hadn’t had wontons in a while, and there was a Sichuan wonton recipe waiting in the wings. The first step is to make the Sichuan red chile oil.


chiles de árbol, canola oil, soy sauce, salt, sichuan peppercorns, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, black cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, ginger

smashing things: cinnamon, garlic, ginger

combine the oil, garlic, ginger, bay leaf, cloves, anise, cardamom, and cinnamon

heat until the garlic is golden (mine was a little more than golden)



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tough and easy

February 11th, 2015

Recipe: porcini butter

Today (Wednesday) was my last day of my 6-week skate ski program. While I will miss meeting up with this fine group of women and my awesome instructor, I have to say I’m happy to get my Wednesdays back. That, and I look forward to not being completely wiped out at the end of a long day of skate skiing and drills. I signed up for this program to jump start my introduction to skate skiing. On the registration form, I was asked to mark my ability level, so I checked off “Green: Beginner”, because that’s what I was. Little did I expect to be grouped into the intermediate class. I came into this program with the willingness to work hard, but this level of instruction required even more than I had anticipated.

So I worked. Hard. It wasn’t enough to just show up to class once a week, I needed to practice several times between classes so I could improve and take full advantage of the instruction I received. In the beginning it was crazy frustrating trying to piece together all of the elements of the technique while being completely exhausted from the hills. But I stuck with it as punishing as it felt, and within a couple of weeks I noticed some improvement. I am by no means what I consider a proficient skate skier, but I feel like I can practice and skate toward that goal equipped with the knowledge and understanding that our instructor shared over the last month and a half.


my wonderful skate gals



After a day of skating up and down the hills at Eldora, it’s necessary to come home to an easy menu. I’ll tell you what, though – I think easy menus are perfect just about any time. We gave up going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day over two decades ago, opting for a delicious home-cooked meal in the privacy of our own home. This spared us the headache of having to jostle among crowds of couples with unreasonably high expectations for the evening. When I tried this recipe, my intention was to shoot for “easy”. Only after sitting down to eat our dinner, did I realized how a simple porcini butter could transform a meal into a swoon-worthy experience.

The name, porcini butter, is practically the recipe itself. It requires dried porcini mushrooms and butter – a match made in heaven. If you are using unsalted butter, you can opt to add salt. I personally hold off on adding salt because I like to add it separately. Unlike fresh porcini, dried porcini are mush easier to find in grocery stores if you don’t have your own. They are usually packed in 1 oz. bags or containers. The butter should be at room temperature so you can cream it easily with a fork. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to turn the porcini into a fine powder. Everything will start to smell of porcini at this point.


you’ll need: salt (optional), butter, dried porcini

cream the butter

place the dried porcini in a spice grinder

grind it into a powder



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white and fluffy

February 8th, 2015

Recipe: huckleberry meringues

The Front Range got the goods this past Wednesday – 8 inches of snow to replenish our dwindling reserves in the mountains. Since then, our region has been hammered with several unseasonably warm and sunny days. Hey East Coast, I think we should arrange for a trade! Of course, you make due with what you get. I don’t wait for perfect conditions because I’d only get 3 ski days a year around here. I just pick the type of skiing that is best suited for the weather and snow conditions, and get myself outside. It’s all about exercise, the mountains, and fresh air. I do the same in summer, except without the skis.


powder in the glades

putting skins away

skinning up the side of the drainage



It almost felt like summer on Sunday. We skinned up into the backcountry through snow that was fast disintegrating into mashed potatoes, peeling off layers of clothes as the sun rose higher into the sky. Jeremy and I unzipped the side vents in our ski pants and I kept my long-sleeve top on for sun protection rather than for warmth. And this is early February. In the mountains. Above 10,000 feet. I chose this route because Erin was sick over the weekend and told us to ski tour without her. It’s a “No Dogs” trail, which means I would never ask Erin to ski it since No Dogs translates into No Banjo – and Banjo is my puppy buddy.

“It’s just as well,” I muttered to myself as I watched Jeremy make his way up the steepening valley headwall in front of me. The snow was crappy for ski touring and I had already taken Erin on a crappy ski tour the weekend prior (where there wasn’t enough snow). Since I convinced her to pick up skiing and sold her my old gear, I feel obligated to show her how awesome it can be on our local trails. Sadly, the conditions have been less than awesome. Like way less than awesome. But I need to give Erin more credit than that. She’s thrilled to get outside with Banjo to explore our lovely mountains by ski, no matter the lack of snow or overabundance of wind. Aside from Jeremy, Erin is the only person with whom I regularly hike and ski.

On the car ride home from last week’s ski tour, Erin told me she wanted to attempt making meringues. She had heard that our high altitude can cause problems. Was this true? I waved the question away. No, altitude hasn’t posed any problems for me. Meringues are easy. But I told her that I’ve been researching and obsessing over one kind of meringue – all based on a photograph – and I was going to experiment soon. I promised I would report back on my findings. You may or may not have seen the gorgeous giant billowy meringues made famous by Ottolenghi. I’ve actually been oblivious to them until I recently purchased Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Flipping through, looking for savory vegetable recipes, an image of those signature meringues piled high on a cake plate grabbed my attention. What? How? I need to – they’re so beautiful!


frozen huckleberries, lemon, superfine sugar, more superfine sugar, eggs

egg whites, lemon juice, sugar, sugar, huckleberries



Ottolenghi’s raspberry meringues resemble giant dark pink and white variegated roses. I wanted to create those large cloud-like confections, but there were a few issues to address. First off, my meringues always wind up beige instead of white. Second, how does he apply the berry splatter without turning the meringues soggy? Eventually, with the guidance of this article based on Ottolenghi’s technique and some kitchen testing, I managed to create this obsession I’ve had for the past few months. For the sauce, I used frozen huckleberries (foraged from this past summer), but you can easily substitute fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries… pick your berry.

Use superfine sugar, because it will incorporate and dissolve into the egg whites faster than larger granules of sugar. Spread the sugar out on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. You’re going to heat this up in a hot oven until it just starts to melt at the edges. When this happens, start whipping the egg whites in a stand mixer on high speed. You really want to use a stand mixer because these need to be whipped for 10 minutes. My arm hurts just thinking about whipping that by hand. You’ll need to move quickly (and carefully) and take the baking sheet out of the oven, lift the parchment (with the sugar) off the pan using oven mitts, and slowly pour the sugar into the whipping egg whites. The directions say not to let the sugar brown in the oven, but mine did a little bit (hey – photographing this stuff makes timing tough). It’s okay, but not ideal. I think if the sugar is liquid (hot), you can pour it into the egg whites, but if you have shards of hardened sugar, don’t add them to the mixer because they won’t dissolve. Also, pour the sugar in on the side of the bowl to avoid any unnecessary excitement. If you pour it directly onto the whisk attachment while it is running, you will have hot sugar flying all over your kitchen.


spread the superfine sugar on a parchment-lined baking sheet

start whipping the egg whites when the sugar begins to melt at the edges

a little too melty, but you get the point

pour the sugar into the egg whites



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