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incremental steps

Monday, October 25th, 2021

Recipe: crumbled tofu stir fry

Thanks to some technologistical hiccups, my last post was published before email subscribers were migrated to a new service, so I apologize if you didn’t receive a notification. But email subscription limbo has now been resolved, and hopefully this is the last we’ll talk about that.

Most of our aspens have been stripped bare by intermittent winter storms and winds, but we find the delicate rattles of the remaining dried leaves soothing when we take the pups on leisurely hikes. I rather like the quiet time in the mountains between the leaf peepers and the ski crowds, when locals are left to their own shenanigans. The diurnal swings in temperature fooled Jeremy into thinking it was too early to switch to flannel sheets despite his complaints about sleeping cold overnight. Once we made the switch, his outlook on life flipped 180°. It will probably flip back after Daylight Saving ends and the sun drops behind the mountains at 4:30.


the local stand had a good run this year

cool air and hot sun, everyone finds their sweet spot

yuki and the charlie brown aspen tree

those autumn sunsets are something else



We’ve been making the most of this lull before ski season, cramming in medical and dental appointments, fixing and organizing house things, voting (have you voted? local elections are important, so please read up on the issues/candidates and vote!)… you know, adulting. I’ve also carved out some time to do a little recipe testing – especially vegetarian recipes. It can be hit or miss and the misses will require additional work, but I’m sharing a real winner today. My aunt recommended this tofu stir-fry from Melissa Clark on New York Times Cooking which I admittedly skipped when I first saw it in my subscription, but gave it a try on her suggestion. I’ve incorporated my aunt’s tweaks as they improve upon the dish.

cilantro, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, shaoxing wine, sesame oil, canola oil, lime, edamame, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, salt, tofu, ginger, garlic



It all starts with a block of firm tofu. Firm is important or else you will wind up with a mushy mess and many tears. Look for firm or extra firm on the packaging. Melissa Clark shreds her tofu and drains the shreds on a towel, but I prefer to freeze, thaw, squeeze, and crumble my tofu. Freezing tofu results in a spongier, more chewy texture, and the tofu absorbs marinades better and fries up crisper. This requires a smidge of extra planning: Freeze the tofu in its packaging overnight or for 12 hours, then thaw it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. When thawed, press the tofu between your palms, squeezing out a good bit of the water. From here you can crumble the tofu by hand. I pull chunks off the tofu block and squeeze out more liquid before crumbling the tofu into a bowl.

crumbled tofu



**Jump for more butter**

emergence

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

Recipe: venison with morel sauce

We received our second shots the day before the anniversary of Kris’ passing. Based on reports from several friends as well as the CDC, I assumed I’d be feeling pretty miserable within 24 hours of my second dose. I bought some flowers earlier in the hopes they would still be bright and perky on May 1.


sunny ranunculus for kris



Because my parents were in town for the past month, our emergence from pandemic isolation has been hastened by their desire to see us. There’s being fully vaccinated and then there is being mentally prepared for the increase in activity and engagement and noise and personalities and driving. And I have to admit that while seeing my parents again has been good, the chaos and stress of stepping back into “normal” life feels anything but normal. It’s not being out of practice so much as questioning if being social is what I enjoy or what society wants me to enjoy. Perhaps Brood X is on to something.

a strawberry mother’s day cake i baked for mom



Per our usually scheduled atmospheric programming, it snowed on Mother’s Day and it snowed some more after that. Any precipitation is welcome in our mountains as we are practically guaranteed a terrible wildfire season in the American West again. The snows and rains made for a cooler, wetter, moodier May, but that hopefully means more mushrooms, more wildflowers, and healthier wildlife here on the Front Range. The western half of Colorado hasn’t been nearly so lucky, but I remain hopeful that the summer monsoons that evaporated the last few years will reappear now that La Niña has officially ended. I love a good Colorado mountain summer rainstorm.

colorado sun and snow in may

signs of life in the mountains: a pasqueflower

deck lounging season has commenced



After taking my parents to the airport last week to catch their morning flight back to Virginia, Jeremy and I stopped to check a morel spot on the plains. We hadn’t paid much attention to the season and we weren’t expecting anything other than a few spears of feral asparagus. But if you don’t look, you’ll never find them. Foraging on the flats is my least favorite kind of foraging because of the ticks and poison ivy and heat and sun and bugs and so many more people, which might explain why I’m so half-heartedly half-assed about the whole endeavor. And to our great surprise, we found a handful of large blonde morels – including the biggest one I’ve ever seen in the flesh!

growing out of the ground like no big deal

approaching child-sized status



My inclination upon finding the first morels of every season is to batter fry them, but that can get a little strange with a morel the size of a guinea pig. The other three weren’t small by our standards, either. Sure, you can cut the big ones up, but half the fun is eating them whole. I flipped through Hank Shaw’s Buck, Buck, Moose cookbook, unearthed a couple of venison backstraps from our freezer (courtesy of our wonderful neighbors), and decided the fate of these precious fungi. The dish is straightforward, quick, and special.

morel mushrooms, venison backstraps, salt, flour, canola oil, butter, beef stock, pepper, port wine, onion



Venison with morel mushroom sauce in the cookbook is slightly different from Hank’s updated web version. The cookbook recipe (this one) works and I’m certain Hank’s newer recipe is just as good if not better, but I didn’t see it until just now. I used fresh morels, but if morels aren’t in season and you have dried morels, Hank has instructions in both recipes for how to use those instead. I suspect you could go with frozen morels, too (I sauté extra morels in butter then freeze them for later use). And if you don’t have access to venison backstrap or tenderloin, beef is a decent alternative.

salt the venison

chopped onion and morels



I seared the venison backstraps rare, measuring the internal temperature at the thickest end to about 120°F (rare is 125°F), knowing it would continue to rise some as the meat rested on a plate. You can shoot for medium rare (final temperature 130°F), but cooking more than that will ruin this lean, tender cut.

sear the meat

resting



**Jump for more butter**

before soup season ends

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Recipe: cream of shiitake mushroom soup

I love March. Everything looks brighter and happier with a little increase in sun angle. We still have snow in the mountains and will for some time, but on those extra warm days the snowy streams and rivers smell of wet earth and hint at the glorious water crossings of summer. And it won’t be long before the plains explode with the colors of bright new green growth and the confetti of flowers. March 1st is also our wedding anniversary. We just celebrated 24 years of legal bliss. At the time, we had arbitrarily selected the date, but now it is this magical moment when the potential for a powder day is equally as good as it is for a day to throw the windows open in the afternoon.

February was snowier than January, thank goodness. While January set the bar pretty low for snowfall in Colorado, we were able to catch some powder days and log lots of miles on the Nordic trails last month. We kept Chinese New Year festivities mellow, focused on work and exercise, and generally continued our isolation with Neva and Yuki. Oh, but I did run out to meet our Crested Butte neighbors’ new puppy because she is IRRESISTIBLE! You know how some people can’t resist babies? I am that person, but with puppies.


taping the chinese symbol for luck upside down on our front door for good luck

sunshine and stormy weather – we love both

i almost kidnapped this adorable baby australian cattle dog



Colorado remains below average for snowpack, but we’re closer to average now than we were a month ago. I can only hope that we remain on this upward trend (and that the summer monsoons don’t evaporate) so that our current daydreams of summer aren’t transformed into the terrifying wildfire season we experienced last summer and fall. We have plenty of adventures planned for ourselves and the pups!

outside time is good for everyone

neva and yuki love their off-leash privileges (and they’ve been so good)

our local mama moose with her yearling sunning in the neighbor’s flowerbed



All this talk of spring and summer has me getting out over my skis. Winter is where we’re at and I wanted to document this comforting cream of shiitake mushroom soup before all thoughts turn to spring produce. Well, my thoughts are already there, but soup and mushroom fans (I am both) will dig it. I’ve made this soup a half dozen times now because I kept picking up these 12 ounce packages of fresh shiitake mushrooms when they appeared at Costco last fall. Any mushroom will do, but fresh shiitakes are like a crossover mushroom from the ordinary button mushroom to the more boutique varieties, and it won’t cost a fortune. The original recipe serves 4, but we burn through this soup so fast that I doubled it in the recipe below. Feel free to halve it (and then regret that you did).

butter, salt, flour, garlic, onion, oat milk (you can use half and half), shiitake mushrooms, pepper, chicken broth



Unless your mushrooms are absolutely filthy, I don’t think it is necessary to wash them. You can, but I don’t. A quick wipe with a damp paper towel or swipe with a pastry brush will remove any debris. Be sure to pop the stem of the shiitake off because it’s pretty tough.

remove the stems

diced onion, minced garlic, sliced shiitake



**Jump for more butter**