No Time Like Snow Time

It's snowing again here and we've managed to get out in it a couple of times between hard snowfalls.  While we've only gotten about 2 feet of snow in the last while the drifts are really stacking up making our snowshoeing outings more like wading waist deep through the snow.  At first I wasn't quite sure we should even be snowshoeing in such deep snow, but now that we have the hang of it it's really beautiful.  It also doesn't hurt that Jay does most of the hard work blazing the trail through the fresh snow in front of us.  Still, it really kills the calves and thighs.  I'm on day 3 of eating spinach for breakfast (including it in my morning smoothie) and I think the super food of Popeye is helping out as well.  It could also be Jay's coconut cream pie.  This newly revealed hidden talent of his will be enjoyed by everyone this holiday season.  I foresee some serious pie making for all of our holiday parties.  I won't even try to explain how delicious and beautiful his pies are, not to mention the serious speed bump they are on the road to my spring break beach body.  Simply irresistible!

Speaking of culinary quests, I too have had some recent successes and failures.  I discovered that cooking celery in anything other than a pot pie or soup just doesn't work.  I basically ruined the chicken vegetable casserole that I made by adding too much celery.  Also I decided to make up a vegetable soup in which I pureed onion, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, carrots, and broccoli in hopes of the end product being a creamy vegetable soup.  It too did not turn out so hot but worked lovely as a marinade and baking sauce for some bass my dad brought to us.  Baked bass in vegetable sauce.  Yum.  Today we had fish tacos with green peppers, onion, black beans and adobo cream sauce.  We'll definitely be recreating those in the future.  On the menu for tonight: Stir fried vegetables and brown rice.


Successes, Failures, and Snow

Just so you all didn't think that everything I touch turns to gold, I wanted to share some of my recent failures along with my successes. My failures were three-fold. First was a dismal attempt at making a lemon meringue pie. You may not believe it, but I have been making pies since I was a kid. Mainly because I just liked to eat them and no one would make them for me. Now, I'm convinced that I only enjoy making overly complicated and difficult foodstuffs, i.e. cheese, beer, pies. And I still like eating pies. But the high altitude and the fact that I haven't made a pie in like 10 years got the better of me. My pie crust was crumbly, my filling was runny, and my meringue dried out, cracked up and fell. However, I made a couple adjustments, and my coconut cream pie is pretty boss, as you can see.

Probably wouldn't taste much
worse that what came in that
bottle (McCormick Vodka, baby!)
My second failure was making soap. I'm still pretty stuck on the idea of how cool it is that you can make soap from firewood ashes and any kind of fat you have laying around. I think I've gotten the actual act of making soap out of my system though. I'm not entirely sure why it didn't work. I have a feeling it might be due to the relatively soft wood that I'm using (aspen), I'm sure that my lye was not strong enough, and I think I added too much oil. Basically, after hours of sifting ashes, boiling lye, burning my skin with it, and heating oil, I was left with an oily mess that did not resemble soap in the slightest. If I ever did try this again, I think I would try to evaporate the lye to make potassium hydroxide crystals so that I could follow a regular recipe. I also don't think my heart was really in it from the start, since I couldn't eat or drink the end product. (In case any of you were wondering, I get most of my crazy pioneer ideas from one book that Shawn and Ryan Haubenstein gave me for like my 13th birthday. Its pretty much the sweetest outdoors book ever, called Camping and Woodcraft, copyright 1917.)

I also tried to extract orange oil from orange peels, and failed at that as well. I blame the instructions I followed for this, since after reading a little bit more technical writing on the subject, I found that it's not actually possible to extract pure oil from soaking in alcohol as most websites suggest. I'm building up my dried orange peel stock again though, and will attempt to distill the essential oil out of it. I don't have my hopes too high that I'm actually going to accomplish this, but at least it keeps me busy and motivates us to eat all these oranges we somehow acquired.

On the other side of things, my first cheese is done, and I can hardly believe how well it turned out. Since I never have heard of or seen caerphilly cheese before, it was hard to imagine what it was going to taste like. As I said before, the only reason I really made it was because it only took 3 weeks to age, versus 2-3 months minimum for most cheese. Its a lot harder and saltier that I expected. It really reminds me of a little milder & softer version of parmesan, with a nice light tang to it. And I didn't have to age it 2 years! It went over really well with the guests, as did my second batch of cottage cheese. So you can trust me, I've got a second opinion. Up next is my edam, which is ready whenever we finish the caerphilly.

Isn't she purdy?

In other news, we got a solid snow last night. The wind was blowing hard, so its hard to tell how much we really got, but I would guess between 12"-18". I'm sure up higher at the top of the ski resort they got more, maybe as much as 2 ft. I feel some snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in our future...

Guess we're not going out that door. 

Can't wait for that to fall on me while I try to bring in more firewood. 


Doing Some Shoeing

Jay checking our status on the GPS.
 With a solid 8 inches of fresh snow we decided to get out and do some snow shoeing.  We circled around the side of the resort through the forest.  We encountered some beautiful snow formations tucked in to the woods including some awesome wind swept bowls.  They were so pristine looking it made me just want to jump in and waller around in each one of them making snow angels.  We managed to make it to the lower ski runs before turning back to head home through the falling snow.

Fresh snow for shoeing.


The Parents Are In!

I was so looking forward to my parents arrival and must say we had the best of times.  For starters, they showed up with a car load of goodies.  Now we have an entire fridge full of fresh produce.  Yessss!  We spent our days touring the area and evenings relaxing with good food and games.

Relaxing by the fire.

Rocco saying hello during our walk.

We walked the loop and were accompanied by Rocco, yes, we have finally confirmed from the Judge's wife that this is in fact the big white dog's name.  We also toured the ski resort and had a look inside the old ski shop.  Mom's feet nearly froze off but we got in some good photo opportunities and had a nice look around.  

Cuchra Pass

A handsome view!

A brief snowfall passed through leaving a couple inches of fresh powder on the ground.  We first attempted to drive to Cuchara Pass in our Toyota. With a little coaxing (getting out and pushing the car) we were able to get our little front wheel drive safely back to the garage.  Thank goodness we had my dad's four wheel drive to get us up to the pass.  After blowing through some snow drifts we made it to the lookout for some mountain views.  We decided to visit the Dog Bar for their Sunday chicken fried steak special and the Ryus Ave. Bakery in LaVeta.  Both were good, but resort prices still remain even though there's not much of a resort left.

Posing in LaVeta after checking out some of the shops.

Lobster feast anyone?
Cooking up a storm...
a storm of lobster that is!
Our evening meals were simply gourmet thanks to Mom and Dad.  We had a delicious taco dinner and even a lobster feast!  Talk about the good life.  This past week was surely it.  We swapped music, stories, and played some serious games of dice, backgammon, and spades.  In fact, I almost feel the need to catch up on some sleep after our late night card games.  I'm not sure if they did it on purpose, but they left the backgammon board with us, so now we can brush up on our skills for our next group of visitors.  We'll bring it back to KC in March!  This has been an action packed few weeks thanks to our family and friends.  We've had so much to look forward to and are so glad everyone has been able to share a little part of our sabbatical with us.  This whole thing really is flying by way too fast, but I feel like we've seen, done, and enjoyed so much more than we ever anticipated.  Thanks to you all!


Spontaneous Pilgrimage to Salt Lake

After our lovely visit from Catherine and crew we were also graced with the presence of our dear friend and fellow pilgrim Kaitlin who drove down from Larkspur, CO with her pup June Bug in tow.  Little did we know that her arrival would bring such exciting and spontaneous adventures for the coming week.  From Cuchara, Kaitlin had plans to travel to Salt Lake City to surprise our friend Dean on the eve of the Grand opening of his dinner service at Cucina Deli.  Jay and I had visited Cucina a month prior to help set up the beer list for this very event and we had all been following the the preparations and hard work of Dean and Tracy to make this monumental step possible for their business.

View through the car window in Utah.

It only took an evening for Kaitlin and June Bug to inspire us to tag along and not only suprise Dean on his big night, but his wife Tracy as well.  As many of you know, I am quite the planner, so attempting such a spontaneous trip on a whim and just dropping in on the Pierose's was quite out of my norm.  But with no schedule, the company of good friends, and a 4 wheel drive vehicle at our disposal, it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up.  We spent the evening in Cuchara packing and picking out pretty dresses to wear to the big event which was quite exciting considering I've been wearing athletic leggings and t-shirts almost the entire time we've been out in Colorado.

More photography from the back seat.

Juney and Jay...party of two. That's the big
painting that Kaitlin traded on the right.
The trip across Colorado and into Utah was filled with laughter and the start of a bond between June Bug and Jay that remains unbreakable to this day.  She spent much of the ride nested on his lap enjoying the view.  We stopped for the night in Grand Junction, CO.  It was nice to have our crew together again, traveling west, and this time the accommodations were much better than the bed bug ridden albergues we had shared just a few months ago in Spain.

We arrived in Salt lake with all the familiar scenery from the past month bringing back warm memories of our stay with Dean and Tracy. We went straight to Cucina to surprise them and it was yet another sweet reunion.  Later that evening we put on our Sunday best and even hot rolled our hair before sampling some of the best beer and tapas in Salt Lake at the Cucina grand opening.  Smoked duck, dumplings, meatballs, and ravioli were accompanied by Epic brewery's Brainless On Peaches beer for an out of this world dinner experience.  Yum.

Ouch!  I just kept thinking about all of the foot pain we
experienced on the Camino to get me through this one.
We continued to celebrate for the rest of the evening making the greasy home style breakfast at Penny Ann's Cafe a welcome sight the next morning.  I was also determined to get the tattoo I had been planning in honor of the Camino while in Salt Lake.  The crew graciously toted me from parlor to parlor in search of someone to take my walk in appointment.  We finally settled at Big Deluxe Tattoo where the two hour top of foot session began.  I had chosen a stamp that I received on my Pilgrim's Passport while on the Camino.  This paticular stamp was from an unofficial establishment along the side of the road while walking across the Meseta. It had been raining most of the day and there were very few stops along the route so when the Oasis appeared Jay and I were relieved to rest ourselves on the lawn furniture set up by this industrious Spaniard and partake of some hot cafe con leche.  It was nothing fancy, but just what some weary pilgrims needed along the endless Maseta on a rainy day.  The minute the owner behind the folding tables set up with coffee and snacks stamped my passport I knew it would be the one for the tattoo.

On the return trip from Salt Lake we stayed in Steamboat Springs, Colorado where Kaitlin had some serious trading to do with a local artist.  She traded one of her paintings much coveted by a tattoo artist that went to her art school for his services on some dahlia and camino shell tattoos.

Kaitlin's painting that she traded for her tattoos.  Check out more of her art at Happy Camper Blog
Kaitlin designed a beautiful shell tattoo based on the waymarkers that guided us on our pilgrimage across Spain.  Most everyone in our Camino family has plans to get the tattoo she designed and I jumped in the tattoo chair once more to get mine while in Steamboat Springs.  Steamboat just so happened to be getting the best snow in all of Colorado so the streets were teaming with gear clad skiers.  It was fun to explore this ski resort town where you could see the skiers plowing down the mountain at the end of main street.  What a truly wonderful unplanned week full of friends and surprises.

My Camino shell tattoo courtesy of Kaitlin
and 9th Street Tattoo Studio.


Backcountry Skiing and Front Range Drinking

Click on the Picture to see the Photo Album
Ah, how long it has been. We've had a busy couple of weeks, pretty much in line with our new life motto of "sure, why not." So needless to say, there has been little blogging--yes, I know the Internet has missed us. So we'll probably be catching up on some stuff over the next couple of days. First and foremost though, is my new hobby of backcountry skiing, paired with my old hobby of drinking front range brews. Our friend, Catherine, from Denver came to visit us two weekends ago, and brought 7 of our newest friends with her. As all good guests, they came bearing gifts of beers, foods, and new recreational activities.

I do like drinking my homebrews, but a man can only brew so many different beers before he ends up with hundreds of bottles of the stuff. So after drinking 3 kinds of beer for the last month, it was a welcome change to get a little variety in the mix. I also believe that it was the first time I drank more than probably 4 beers in one night above 9000 ft, and boy does it hit you hard up here. Either that or I'm just getting old and going soft. Probably a combination of the two. But regardless of the Friday night dance party, we managed to clamber up the ghost town ski resort on Saturday morning for some backcountry skiing.

Jon, Jenn, Dom, and Ryan are all experienced backcountry skiers & boarders, and I am clearly not. You have to understand now, that I never skied out of bounds before, and rarely did I ever ski on anything other than a groomed slope. I may have skied in a couple inches of powder before, but nothing like this. So needless, to say, I have no gear, nor any practiced skill. I snowshoed up, carrying my 25 lb. ski boots and skis on my back. Let me tell you, changing your shoes at 10,500 ft in a snowstorm is not fun.

Being a snowstorm though, we found an amazing chute of powder on the north boundary of the resort runs. And man was it sweet. I think I fell down about a dozen times the first day, and lost my skis a couple of times. I was like the clumsy kid embarrassing himself on the bunny slopes all over again. At least falling doesn't hurt, since you're going down on 4 foot blanket of powdery snow. Once I got a little bit of a feel for it though, it was the most amazing thing. Its almost feels like you're floating down the slope on water skis. We hit it again on Sunday, and I think I wiped out a mere two or three times.

I can hardly believe how different it is than riding a chair lift up and carving down a groomed slope. Climbing a mountain to ski down it gives you a much deeper respect for what you're doing. And since it would be insane to go backcountry skiing alone, you get to go through it with a group of people, who most likely are going to be pretty cool. I'm super excited now that we recently met one of the neighbors, only to find out that a bunch of the year-rounders here ski the resort all the time. By the time the Denver crew comes back down, maybe I'll just be a pro. And with a big storm potentially hitting us later this week, next weekend might just turn out pretty rad.

Sunday brought us some beautiful weather. 


The Elk Superhighway

For all the hunters out there, I have found the spot for you. The only problems are the questionable nature of the land ownership (not sure if it's actually public or private), and the fact that you have to hike a couple miles through the mountains to get to the spot. Carrying an elk out might be difficult. So maybe it really isn't the spot for you, but it definitely is the spot for elk. Right on the treeline between the meadow and forest near the summit of South White Peak was like a regular Elk Superhighway. The sign was literally everywhere you looked. Nearly every aspen tree had dozens of rubs on them, going back years, and some fresh from this year. Some of the rubs were 6'-7' high.

There were also dozens of sets of tracks along the forest edge. Since we were on our way to the peak of the mountain, we didn't follow any, but there was one spot in particular that 4 or 5 sets of tracks entered & exited the woods at the same spot. Most of the rest of the tracks followed along the forest edge. All of these tracks we saw in the snow, most of which looked somewhat old. I would guess they weren't more than a couple weeks old though, considering the amount of snow we've gotten up here (not much) and how hot it has been up here (in the 50's and sunny). Snow doesn't hang around long these days. I lost track counting the number of droppings, but I think it must have been somewhere north of 25 pellet groups. 

So there's definitely elk there, and hopefully we can spot some before we leave Colorado. I'm hoping we can go back up there a little later in the year, follow the sign into the woods, and find some antlers dropped at least! 


South White Peak Success

Basking in the sun at the top of South White Peak.  Click on the photo to view more pictures from this hike.
We were on such a high after reaching the ski resort summit that we decided to try our hand at South White Peak again.  Also, the weather couldn't have been better.  The wind was very mild compared to what we usually experience when we start this hike at Cuchara Pass.  I was even able to hike most of the day in just a T-shirt!

View Hike 2013-02-05 10:37 by kartoffeln on Breadcrumbs

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Though similar in elevation to the ski resort hike, the 7.3 mile hike up South White Peak was even more grueling.  We changed our approach this time following a ridge up to the tree line then cutting to the back side of the mountain before tackling the steep incline through the woods to the top.  The first portion of the hike follows cattle trails up the foothills.  The recent mild weather and sunny skies yielded freshly melted snow making the first portion a slippery trek through muddy cow poopy terrain.

We had a break once we reached the trees and prepared ourselves for the ever increasing slope.  Once we entered the forest on the back side of the mountain things got really sticky.  We decided to hike up the exposed piles of boulders instead of tackling the snow packed slopes.  Avoiding putting our snow shoes on, we climbed up lichen covered rivers of rock that seemed to be pouring down the mountainside.  After getting to the point where we had to lean forward to avoid falling backward the rock flows ended and the deep snow, protected by the dense vegetation, began.  With snow shoes on we navigated up the final steep slope to the top where it was only a few hundred feet to the clearing at the peak.

Disco Fever
Finally we reached the clearing which turned out to be a massive rock field.  We had been viewing this spot through an old surveying transit from our back porch thinking that it was a nice open meadow at the top of the mountain.  The homogeneous color of the rock was deceiving from afar, but we still managed to have a nice rest at this rocky summit.


The Third Time's The Charm

Click on the picture for more photos of the hike.

The telephone at the old lift station.
Attempt number three and we finally made it to the top of the ski resort.  Yay!!!  The weather was beautiful even though it was a bit chilly and windy at the top.  The biggest obstacle in reaching the summit was the strange mix of terrain.  The switch backs alternated between deep drifted snow and bone dry cobbles making it extremely frustrating and time consuming to have to constantly stop and put on or remove our snow shoes.  At times when we could see bare ground ahead of a snowy patch we'd chance it by leaving our snow shoes off and more often then not ended up thigh deep in snow.  It was a bit eerie on the way up listening to the chair lifts squeal and clang as they swung above us making us ever so mindful of just how convenient the lifts once were. I never seem to think we are going to make it all the way, but sure enough we rounded the corner to find the abandoned ski patrol shack and lift station at the top of the mountain.  There was even a lift chair left perfectly perched at the top for us to have a rest on.  We made our descent straight down the ski run instead of using the switch backs.  By accident, meaning I fell in the deep snow, we discovered the sport of butt sledding.  That's right, butt sledding.  Given an adequately steep enough hill one simply sits down, leans back, and enjoys the ride.  This new sport kept us happy and entertained all the way down the mountain.


Cucina Aber

One of the best dishes that I even ate twice while at Cucina Deli in Salt Lake City, UT was their spaghetti pie.  Mmmmm mmmmm good.  Dean gave me the recipe verbally while at the deli one day and I decided it was time I give it a shot.  Now there were several substitutions that had to be made due to what we have in stock here at the condo, but all in all it turned out swell.  I was pretty worried that I'd end up with a pie plate full of loose spaghetti on my hands but the thing held up nicely.  I really think this will become a go to dinner dish for us.  

Boil up some spaghetti until it's just underdone and prepare the filling.  I chose to use spinach, onions, mushrooms, black and green olives, and ham.
Add the filling along with two beaten eggs to the prepared spaghetti and mix.
Place the whole concoction in a greased pie plate.  It looks a lot cooler if you use a spring form pan like Cucina Deli and display it as a stand alone pie. 
Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese, or in our case extra sharp white cheddar (that's all we had). 
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Top with pasta or marinara sauce.
Thank you Dean Pierose and Cucina Deli for the inspiration!

Eagle Soar

What a day. We went on a killer hike this morning--equal parts killer on the body and awesome. I wanted to scope out the route up to the South White Peak nearby us here, to make sure the stream crossings weren't bad and there weren't any fences guarded by high mountain cults. So we made the hike, which turned out to lead us through the most amazing high mountain meadow I may have seen. You have to walk for a long while along a steady downhill grade which is pretty boring, and shows you no scenery that you can't see from the road. But then near the bottom before you hit the creeks, you crest over a hill and the view opens up to this meadow nestled down between the Dakota Wall and White Peak. Couldn't have done it better in the Alps, if you ask me. If you come to visit us, we will be picnicking there (assuming there isn't 3 feet of snow on the ground). Yes, Kaitlin, this means you.

A very convenient log. 
It was a pretty brutal hike though, it took us 2 hours to hike 3.5 miles, I guess probably because we ascended about 1200' through the hike. I really think, though, that it mostly seemed hard because we had to walk uphill back to the car. Must remember, always park at the low spot... It will be a pretty epic hike once we tack on the extra 500' of elevation to hit the summit. Also as a side note, we saw a shitload (yes, I did intend the pun) of Elk scat. Probably at least 15 piles of it, some pretty fresh. Now just to find the damn things themselves...we have yet to see any wildlife up in our area of the mountains, just tracks and signs.

View Hike 2013-02-02 10:43 by kartoffeln on Breadcrumbs

So the hike was good and all, but then the day gets even better. We had to go down into town for some things--namely a cross-cut saw so I can manhandle some trees for our fireplace. Speaking of not seeing any wildlife in our area, they apparently have a monopoly on the wild things down in the valley. On our drive there and back and around La Veta, we saw no less than 33 mule dear and 1 bald eagle. Yea, thats right, a bald eagle just hanging out in a cottonwood tree. I don't think I've seen a bald eagle for like 15 years, and never one in this area. I had no idea they even lived in the mountains. Shows how much I know about our national symbol.

And to make things even better, Lauren is downstairs making me some spaghetti pie. (Never fear, I'm sure Lauren will elaborate on this later.) How can my day get any better?! Some beer and desserts? Yes!

I bet if that deer in the left front could talk, it would sound like Al Pacino. 


We Were Cold...

So I made a meatloaf:

Venison Meatloaf: 1 lb. of venison, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, onions, garlic, egg, and cranberry cinnamon bread crumbs (we're still working on loaf I made last week).

And Jay made a fire: