Sometime between eating croissants and biking up mountains in Spain last summer, Ross, Anne, and I decided that we should all go backcountry skiing together. Often, these are the kind of plans that evaporate as soon as the words are out, but in this case I got an email a few months later saying that the trip was being booked and I should be there.
I’ve never backcountry skied. I haven’t camped in years. I’ve never hiked with more than a day pack. And yet I signed up for this multi-day adventure almost without a second thought. For the past few years I’ve been trying to make an effort to see more of the country: Montana, San Francisco, Colorado, places that tend to get overlooked for Spain, Italy, and England. This trip would give me the opportunity to visit some new places, and provide me with a new physical challenge. Why not?
The first thing I did was email Anne and ask what kind of backpack she had. Then I went to Sierra Trading Post and bought the same one. I started wearing it to my Wednesday workouts at Harvard Stadium, filling it with big cookbooks, quarts of water, and cast iron frying pans. People thought I was badass, but I just didn’t want to be the one in our ski group who held everyone back.
Backcountry skiing is like regular skiing in that you occasionally ski down a mountain. But that’s where the similarities end. Rather than riding a cozy gondola, or chair to the top of the mountain, you climb it. In your skis and boots. At altitude. There are no lodges to buy hot chocolate at, no fires to warm up by. Instead, you carry a thermos, hand warmers, and everything else you need for the day. With no ski patrol to rely on, you prepare for the worst, wearing an avalanche beacon, and carrying a shovel and probe just in case. All of this you carry on your back.
Day 1: en route to the yurts with gear
We assembled on Day 1 and met the rest of our group. There were 10 of us in all, plus two guides and a porter. Anne and I were the only girls. After doing a beacon check (to make sure everyone’s beacon can find everyone else’s beacon in the event of an avalanche), we set off for camp, a small cluster of yurts set in the midst of the McCully Basin, a four mile climb that rose 1,800 feet. Our home for the trip was a 16-foot yurt outfitted with cots, sleeping bags, and a wood stove.
Despite the primitive conditions, we were almost always warm and toasty. Kettles set on top of the wood stove in the cook yurt meant coffee, tea and cocoa were easily accessible and layers made it easy to adjust body temperature. Pretty much the only time I was chilly was a) using the bathroom and b) in the middle of the night when the fire needed to be stoked.
Yurt life was kind of interesting. Cohabitating with strangers in the middle of the wilderness instills a kind of kinship that you don’t get in the outside world. There’s no TV or gadgets to get lost in. Each night we’d sit around the fire, eating supper and telling stories. Those who could would strum a small guitar, and the rest of us would listen appreciatively. Being far away from anything else, we had to trust one another in a way that you don’t in normal life. If there had been an avalanche, or some other kind of emergency, we’d rely on each other to survive. One guy who I was sure was a jerk was the first one to offer help when I started getting blisters from my ski boots. He sat with me for 30 minutes one morning, cutting moleskin and offering advice on how best to patch them up. Despite being with eight guys, there was no talk of sports, unless you count skiing. I cracked up while they compared notes on where they bought their raw milk and how best to “grow chickens.” Welcome to the west, I suppose.
Why go through all this trouble? First, we were in the midst of some of the most gorgeous mountains I’ve ever seen. I kept joking that I felt like I was in a Coors commercial.
Seriously, these were the mountains of my dreams. Snow covered, jagged peaks that make you feel like a tiny speck of dust. Every vista seemed more beautiful than the one before, and we had this whole area practically to ourselves.
The second thing that made it worth it was the snow. There was six-foot base of snow on the ground, and about six inches of fresh powder fell our first night there. It was like movie snow, so fluffy and light. Having grown up skiing on the East Coast where ice and hard pack rule, skiing here was a fantasy world. We’d climb an area and ski down, then move to another area for fresh snow. We never skied the same thing twice, and our tracks were always the only ones on the mountain. Pretty sweet.
The other thing that was great about all this climbing was that we had to eat almost constantly. You burn though so many calories moving and trying to stay warm, it’s almost impossible to overeat. With my food fears in full-on panic mode, I made sure to bring lots and lots of snacks: a King-sized Reese’s, two Toblerones, a package of beef jerky, half a dozen Kind bars, a package of smoked almonds, and a batch of chunky granola. I think I added 10 pound to my pack, but it was worth it to know that I wouldn’t starve.
I’ve been working on my granola recipe for the past few months, and after several failures and much tweaking, I think I’ve found a winning recipe. Granola can be finicky stuff; depending on the recipe it can come out of the oven bitter, the texture of loose gravel, or simply bland. Yet I like the idea of making it, being able to customize it to your own tastes and preferences- good granola can be heavenly. I prefer mine chunky, with raisins and a variety of nuts and seeds. While many will tell you the secret to chunky granola is adding fat, I wince at the idea of adding a stick or more of butter to mine. Instead, I use a bit of butter and then add a couple of eggs to act as a binder. Works like a charm. Also, I happen to love a really maple-y, slightly salted granola, so I use Grade B syrup, which has a stronger flavor, as well as a bit of maple extract to punch things up.
I’ve found granola to be a great crowd pleaser, and with a little effort the homemade stuff is generally about ten times better than what you find in the bulk bins at the natural food store. I’d encourage you to use this recipe as a base, but feel free to substitute different varieties of nuts and extracts, depending on your favorites.
4 cups/14 oz rolled oats (not instant)
1.5 cups/ 6 oz walnuts or other nuts/seeds
1 cup/ 2 oz shredded coconut (I’ve used sweetened and unsweetened, both are good)
1/3 cup/3 oz brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 Tb water
4 tsp vanilla or maple extract (or almond might be nice)
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Pre-heat oven to 325. Combine the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until well-combined. Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread into an even layer, pushing the mixture down with the back of a spoon (this helps create clumps). Bake 40 to 45 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool completely before breaking into chunks.
Once upon a time a Walrus and a Carpenter went for a walk along the beach where they met up with a bunch of oysters. “Come walk with us!” they beseeched, and pretty soon a parade of oysters was trailing them across the sand. When the pair decided they’d gotten sufficiently far, they brought out a loaf of bread, some vinegar, and proceeded to have a tasty snack. Poor oysters.
That’s the gist of Lewis Caroll’s poem from “In the Looking Glass.” It also happens to pretty well sum up my dinner at a Seattle restaurant of the same name.
The Walrus and the Carpenter came highly recommended. It’s also gotten a fair amount of national press lately, and was recently named one of Bon Appetit’s “20 Best Restaurants in America.” To be frank, after all the fanfare I was a bit apprehensive about actually going, particularly because it was Valentine’s Day. I pictured big crowds, a harried hostess, and too-cool-for-school servers. I could not have been more wrong.
Anne swung by at five to put our names in for a table (they do not take reservations), and already there was a two-hour wait. This was actually fine, as my run had taken longer than expected, and I was still full from lunch. We had just found a parking space in Ballard when the hostess called to tell us our table was ready. Pretty good timing.
The restaurant was nothing like I expected. There were no masses to wade through at the front door, no loud bar, no need to assert yourself. “It’s so civilized,” I said to Anne, as we stepped into the brightly lit and uncrowded space. Couples murmured and held hands, waitresses danced around one another behind the bar. A twig-covered chandelier dominated the room, while white walls and muted furniture made the relatively small dining room seem spacious.
“The idea is to serve the highest quality food and drink in a space that is stripped of pretense and feels like home.”
We were seated at the bar, so we had a great view of the action as we talked about what to order. Wire baskets filled with oysters sat at one end, and nearby two sous chefs plated dishes. Before us a large bookcase sat filled with bottles like a library of liquor. Our server appeared, the same lipstick-clad, tattooed lady whose photo appeared in the recent Bon Appetit piece. We congratulated her on her rise to stardom and she smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t even know they were going to use that photo,” she said.
Like Caroll’s poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter is all about oysters. We had seven local varieties to choose from, so Anne and I picked six each for an even dozen. However, in a display of amazingness, someone decided that we really should try all seven types, so our oyster tray arrived with a couple extra shells on it. Score.
The oysters were all small to medium sized, and were arranged from mildest to briniest around a bed of ice. Some had long, thin shells, some were rounder, some sported gorgeous frills on them. They were all delicious, reminiscent of the not too far away waters where they’d grown up. As I washed them down with cava, I turned to Anne and said again, “This is so civilized.”
We couldn’t stop at oysters. Instead, we elected to try prawn crudo, whose bodies arrived in a spicy/sour brine, and whose shells were served alongside, deep fried like true prawn crisps. There was also a bowl of Brussels sprouts, roasted dark, almost caramelized. And grilled sardines, covered in a walnut and parsley pesto, bright and earthy tasting. I drank something called the “Mustache Ride,” a bawdy concoction of bourbon, cynar, allspice dram and maple. It was well-balanced, not to boozy, with a hint of spice and a hint of citrus. Life was good.
Despite the wait, our meal was unharried. The service was attentive and friendly; they treated us as if we were regulars, even after I confessed to being a tourist. And the food? It was exactly what I look for in a restaurant: showcasing local ingredients in a way I’d never considered, inspiring new ideas for meals in my own kitchen (though I confess to being disappointed that uni custard wasn’t on the menu that night!). I left feeling like I’d just visited the home of a good friend, one who happens to be super-cool and cook really well.
O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
If I could take my favorite parts of Boston (good eating, culture, ethnic diversity) and combine them with my favorite parts of Portland, Maine (working waterfront, close to nature, laidback lifestyle), I think I’d end up with something akin to Seattle.
I had just over 24 hours in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city, so my impressions are naïve at best. But I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount of running around and sightseeing, and at first blush, I liked what I saw. In Seattle, it seems, one often gets the best of both worlds. I’ve long struggled to choose whether I’d rather live by the sea, or near the mountains, and I loved that in Seattle you can have both. Likewise, it’s got the culture and diversity of a big city, and yet the graciousness of a small town. One can be cosmopolitan, yet outdoorsy, worldly and yet local.
I started my day in Seattle at Caffe Vita, a local coffee chain. Seattle takes its coffee pretty seriously (you’ve heard of a few Seattle-based coffee chains, no?), and I’m pretty sure I quadrupled my caffeine intake while I was there. Caffe Vita was just down the street from my cousin Anne’s place, so when I work up at the crack of dawn (still on east coast time), I wandered over there for a little pick me up. The coffee was lovely, but I was most impressed with just how nice everyone working there was, especially before 7 a.m. No attitude. No rush. Smiles!
After a morning of errands, Anne took me to Pike Place Market. Touristy, yes, but also charming. We ate fresh-cracked uni, tasted local cheeses, and bought some heavenly pastries. Lavender shortbread? Swoon. I also peeked inside the original Starbucks, ate some cucumber kimchi, and eyed (but did not eat at) a Filipino lunch counter with a sign that said “Your portion size is determined by your attitude.” Amen.
After filling up on samples and sweets, we headed to lunch at Il Corvo, where we stuffed ourselves with pillowy gnudi and chewy tagliatelle doused in grassy, olive pesto.
Anne had to go to work that afternoon, so I decided to continue sight seeing with a 10-mile run. Very pretty, but a terrible idea after such a big lunch. At one point I texted Anne “pasta + running = yetch.” Running has become one of my favorite ways to see new places though, and this one didn’t disappoint. I ran through an industrial marine area, past a bunch of marinas, and out to Golden Gardens before looping back and running down 85th Street through the rolling hills of Ballard.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day that night with dinner at one of Seattle’s best restaurants (blog to come), and were on the road at six the next morning, headed off on an epic three-state road trip. Seattle was in the rearview mirror, but after an introduction like this, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for more.
Anytime I visit my Dad, I brace myself for an inevitable on-slaught of meat into my diet. While I’ve never been one to shun a pork chop, Dad brings meat-eating to a whole new level. I say rack of lamb, he says leg of lamb. I say steak, he says whole prime rib. And the flesh of one animal is rarely enough; Dad’s favorite meals involve cooking what he calls the whole barnyard: something pork, something cow, something sheep. Maybe poultry… maybe. You get the picture.
As one might imagine, my visits to England usually involve at least one, if not many, trips to the local butcher.
I love them. You never know what you’re going to walk into when you arrive. They might be breaking down chickens, trimming roasts, or wielding a big saw over a huge piece of meat. You might see a whole pork belly, a pile of wings, or the backside of a lamb.
The place isn’t particularly big, there’s maybe standing room for a dozen customers, so there’s no avoiding the show while the butchers dance around one another behind the counter as they prepare each order.
A few years ago they gave me a tour of the place, bringing me through a meat locker where cow carcasses were hung up like suits, and showing me the upstairs work area where they grind all their leftover bits into sausage. You know a place is legit when they show you where they make the sausage.
This year, we decided to make a brisket for New Year’s. While this is a pretty normal cut in these parts, the Brits were intrigued, particularly when told we wanted the bones left in. One guy disappeared into the back, only to return with a quarter of a cow slung over his shoulder.
I love seeing these primal cuts, watching what part of the animal creates this roast or that, or how hard and long a butcher has to saw to get through a rib. There’s no denying that your food came from an animal, or that someone worked really hard to get it to your plate in top shape.
The brisket turned out beautifully, by the way. Rubbed in a secret blend of spices and cooked low and slow for more than 15 hours, the meat was fork-tender and delicious. Definitely worth a trip across the pond.
Sub-hed: In which Gary Dzen tries to make a beer lover out of me
Once upon a time I liked beer. This was back in my early 20s when I was living in Wisconsin (a great beer-producing state), and I could eat anything I wanted and still fit into my pants the next day. My then-boyfriend and I would pass hours eating brats and drinking local beers- everything from Miller Lite to Sprecher Black Bavarian was fair game. These were the days when Leinenkugel wasn’t available out of state, and the folks that started New Glarus hadn’t yet met the president. Back then, beer seemed to go with everything- from Friday night at a polka hall to a Saturday football tailgate outside Camp Randall to a Sunday afternoon fishing trip (fun fact: I learned to fish in Wisconsin). I drank beers at fine establishments along State Street, in taxidermy adorned bars in the state’s northern woods, and in my tiny studio apartment in Milwaukee’s Marquette neighborhood where I could smell the Miller Brewery just blocks away.
Then I moved to Florida, and everything changed. Gin and tonics tasted better in the semi-tropical nights, and on the occasion I wanted a beer, Corona Light and Coors would have to do. Little has changed since then. Summers, I drink gin and cheap light beer. During winter, the last thing I want is a cold drink in my hand, particularly one that fills you up like Thanksgiving dinner. Pass the red wine.
When I befriended Boston.com beer blogger Gary Dzen a few months ago, I could see the hurt in his eyes when I proclaimed Coors my favorite beer. “We gotta work on that,” he said. I just nodded and reached for a can with blue mountains. But true to his word, Gary called a few weeks ago and asked if I’d help him taste beers for his “12 beers of Christmas” column. I agreed, mostly because he played up to my ego and also asked me to cook for it. But I was more excited about my chicken chili than I was about any of the beers Gary wanted to try.
Last week, six of us convened for an evening of beer tasting. Gary had done a lot of research and arrived with a large box filled with cans and bottle of various sizes. Being the connoisseur of fine things that I am, I was most excited for the beers with pretty labels. Chili was served, and tasting commenced.
The first thing I realized is that I know nothing about tasting beer. While I could say “Yeah, I like that” and “This is gross” I had a hard time quantifying any of my claims. While others talked about flavors popping and citrus notes, I said things like “This one smells like an old lady.” Not exactly insightful.
The second thing I learned is that you can’t judge a beer by it’s cover. I always thoughts that dark beer = heavy beer, but that isn’t always the case. There were just as many lighter colored beers that I didn’t like as there were dark ones. That said, there were some that I did like.
Which brings me to my third point: I remembered why I used to like beer. Beer can be as complex as wine, and it can be delicious. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a freak for hops, or crazy about malts, I do firmly enjoy Belgian ales. A few of my favorites of the night: Vineland One, Hibernation Ale, and Delirium Noel. If beer’s your thing, or you want to learn more, you can read Gary’s full review here.
Lastly, beer seems like a much more viable option when looking to buy local, which is something I think about as it pertains to food, but not as much when it comes to drink. New England wines are not ever going to do it for me, but beers are another thing. I’m already a huge fan of Pretty Things, Harpoon and Sam Adams, but Gary’s tasting made me realize that I’ve just scratched the surface. Mystic Brewery, Mayflower and Notch (to name a few) are all doing interesting things, much more worthy of a taste than a no-name glass of Cabernet. Gary may not have made a beer drinker out of me yet, but he’s greatly improved the chances that I’ll venture out of my comfort zone when I imbibe in the future.
And that chili I was so excited about? It was delicious too. Lest you think beer is only good for drinking, I highly recommend cooking with it as well.
White chicken and beer chili
2 lb ground turkey/chicken
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic
1 10-oz can green chile, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 12 oz bottle beer (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale)
1 lb dried navy beans (do not soak)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp smoked black pepper
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons chili seasoning
shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro
Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook chicken until done. Drain meat and set aside. In same pot, heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat and saute onions and garlic. When onions are translucent (~2 minutes) add green chile, stock, beer, beans and spices. Return chicken to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 6 to 8 hours (You can also cook over night in a 250 degree oven) until beans are tender and mixture thickens. Makes about 10 servings. People will want seconds.
Almost eight years ago, a persistent friend peer-pressured me into signing up for my first 5k road race. I don’t remember much about my training, but I know that on race day I’d never run three straight miles before; my goal was simply to finish the 3.1 miles without walking.
I made it in a respectable 33 minutes, but it was one of the hardest physical feats of my life. For a week afterwards, I limped around, legs sore and stiff. Climbing stairs was a nightmare.
Still, the following year I signed up for the race again, and ran my first sub-30 5k, a huge feat in my mind. Shortly after that, I took up long-distance biking, and eventually Olympic-distance triathlons. But the run was never my friend. I’d smoke the swim, and kill it on the bike, only to plod along on the run getting passed by everyone I’d passed the previous two legs. I resigned myself to never running much faster than a 10-minute mile.
in the midst of a ride from Miami to Key West
The 10-minute mile mentality stuck with me for years. When I moved to Boston running became the most convenient form of exercise, and while my mileage increased over time, I didn’t get much faster. Last year, a friend convinced me to run the Reach the Beach relay, which included an 8-mile leg. I was scared, but not wanting to let the team down outweighed my fear, and I finished, quads screaming. Still, once I knew I could run 8 miles, doing 13 didn’t seem like a stretch, and so I signed up for my first half-marathon last September. After three months of training, I finished with an average pace of 10:16, and hardly ran for two months after that. When I did the Jingle Bell run in December, I couldn’t believe how hard running had become. I struggled to finish the three mile race in 32 minutes.
This year, I decided to start running more seriously. I set a goal back in January of completing three half-marathons. I started tracking my mileage via Daily Mile, and clocking the majority of my runs with the Map My Run app. Over the summer, I found an amazing running group that motivated me to get out of bed in the morning, rain or shine. I started boot camp again to work on my core and upper-body strength. On Labor Day, I ran 17 miles, doing a 10-mile run with friends in the morning, and then a 7 mile run with the group that night. My splits for both were sub-10. AMAZING.
running took me across the Golden Gate bridge/ Cambridge race/ stats by month
Suddenly, in September, I started to feel like a runner, a word I’d never used to describe myself. I felt energetic, not tortured, on runs. My form improved. When Reach the Beach rolled around, I completed 24 miles in 36 hours, and while I was sore afterwards, it was nothing compared to the way I’d felt after that first 5k. Last week, I did a training run in preparation an upcoming half-marathon. I knew I wanted to do 8 miles, but I also wanted to compete in a local 5k. So I ran an easy three miles to the race, then raced, and ran home. I finished the 5k in 26:06, a time I never dreamed of seeing.
my morning routine
I’m running my third-half marathon of the year on Sunday. My goal is to PR. I’d also love to run a sub-2 hour race, but I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet. Yet is the operative word there, and in order to motivate myself to keep running through the cold months I’ve signed up for two half marathons next year: one in February, and one in March. I’m committed to getting stronger and faster.
While general fitness is my overall goal here, I have to say it feels really great to tackle something that once got the best of me. It’s also awesome to do this alongside a group of inspirational and fun people who drive you to get out of bed on cold, dark mornings. And it’s fun to be outside rain or shine, enjoying a piece of the city that few see. It is hard, sometimes. But not once have I ever finished a workout and regretted it. Can’t say that about many things.
view on my favorite local run route
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a prize. And this muffin recipe is a pretty good one. I can’t remember how I stumbled onto it… I think I was looking for a baked oatmeal recipe that I made last year, but it might have been Twitter. I’ve blogged about other oatmeal muffins, and I’ve blogged about overnight oats- this combines those two great things into something delicious. The oatmeal is more tender after a night of soaking, and these muffins are a bit moister and fluffier than the others I blogged. If you soak your oats and then forget to cook the muffins, don’t worry. I’ve left them in the fridge for a week and still made perfectly delicious muffins.
Overnight oatmeal muffins
1 cup rolled oats (not quick/instant)
2 cups low-fat buttermilk, or regular milk
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
6 tsp ground flax seeds
- 1 pint blueberries
- 1 cup raisins
Combine oats and milk and refrigerate overnight.
Heat oven to 350. Combine flour, wheat bran, soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl combine milk/oat mixture with oil, sugar, and eggs. Stir well and then add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Fold in berries or raisins, if desired.
Spoon 1/4 cup of batter into greased muffin tins and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of ground flax over each one. Bake 18 minutes or until centers are firm. Makes 14 muffins.