California Trip, Part I: San Francisco

Recently Matt and I went on our first vacation together in several years. You could argue that our “weekend warrior” trips are vacations too, but somehow weekends never quite fill that void in my heart that’s only really addressed by day drinking, eating a crazy array of foods at all hours of the day, exploring new places, wearing out the soles of my shoes, and sitting on a beach (under an umbrella, and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses, and while basically still clothed- gotta protect that pale skin, folks!). So, in line with that argument, our trip to California fits the bill.

Beautiful San Francisco Bay

Beautiful San Francisco Bay

Since Matt was still on summer break from graduate school, he drove down to San Francisco, and I flew in several days later from Denver. Matt’s brother Michael lives in the city, and after I got embarrassingly lost at the airport (this is not a one-time occurrence, sadly), Michael picked me up and we went into town.

I’d always heard that San Francisco is at its most moody during the summer- foggy, overcast, damp, and chilly- but the weather was pleasant for us. Admittedly, it helps that I love fog. It always reminds me of Carl Sandburg’s poem: “The fog comes/ on little cat feet.” And one of my favorite morning drinks is a London Fog: earl grey tea, foamed milk, and vanilla. It was only foggy the morning we went whale watching- but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On Saturday morning we awoke bright and early (a.k.a. after Michael had already gone for his morning run) to get to Chinatown for a walking tour. Chinatown was one of my must-sees for San Francisco, especially since I’ve yet to find a good Chinese restaurant in all of Wyoming. I was very excited to drink boba or bubble tea again.

One of many murals in San Francisco's Chinatown

One of many murals in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Due to the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, almost all of the downtown architecture in San Francisco is relatively new. In a way, this reminded me of Hamburg, Germany, which was completely destroyed by bombings in World War II. The entire city is glass and sharp corners, not unlike San Francisco. After the fires, hardworking Chinese immigrants insisted on keeping Chinatown in the city despite reluctance from white Americans, so the Chinese paid for the rebuilding of Chinatown on their own.

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Mostly our tour guide spoke about how hard life has been for Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, how they’ve fought for recognition and for the freedom to practice their traditions, both religious and cultural, in America.

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We visited a Buddhist/Confuscius temple, walked down several alleys, saw a 93-year-old man sing and play a traditional Chinese instrument known as the erhu, and passed by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

Erhu player

Erhu player, who was going deaf and played his mic’d instrument so loudly it drowned out the voice of our tour guide

After our tour, we grabbed some clam and herb pizza on the way to Coit Tower.

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I was impressed by how hilly the city truly is (I’ve been to San Francisco once before, but I was maybe 3 or 4 years old and don’t remember most of the trip).

Just a little hilly

Just a little hilly

Upon finally reaching the base of the tower, which is atop a large hill and staircase, we groaned when we saw the line of tourists waiting for their turn to take the stairs to the tower’s top, so we just enjoyed the view of the bay from the park below.

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Michael and Matt

Michael and Matt

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We walked around the city some more, then took an Uber to Mission Dolores Park to meet up with my Uncle Tom, Aunt Morgan, and two little cousins Catalina and Maxime. Lina and I ruled the playground, no big deal. Actually, cops do patrol the playground to ensure that every adult is “accompanied by a child,” as a sign proclaims. I don’t blame them; it’s a pretty awesome playground. Lina and I climbed to the top of a genuine boulder and had a small picnic up there.

Tom took this one of Lina & me atop the boulder

Tom took this one of Lina & me atop the boulder

I told her, “Hey, that policeman was making sure your dad was here with a kid.” She looked up at me, half-bitten sugar snap pea in hand, and replied, “What kid?”

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After the playground, we headed to Dosa, an Indian restaurant in the Mission, for a mid-afternoon snack. We ordered everything off their small bites menu, and it was all delicious. Think spicy kale chips, fried chickpeas and chicken, sweet and savory chutneys. I also had a pretty spectacular beet cocktail.

We parted ways with my aunt and uncle and my sleepy cousins, and went for a short hike up to Mount Davidson to get a good view of the bay.

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That night we went out to a fancy bar that purportedly had a live jazz band, which ended up being a sort of wedding band specializing in soul music and love songs from the 60’s. The bouncer wore a buttoned-up vest over his collared shirt, and the bartender had a mustache like that of the Robin Williams/wax museum version of Teddy Roosevelt, but more steampunk, and more curly at the edges. Lots of wax, or whatever it is hipster guys are putting in their facial hair these days.

The next morning was our whale-watching tour, which was expensive, but ended up being totally worth it. I highly recommend signing up for one if you ever go to San Francisco. The special up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge was an added bonus.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Unfortunately for me, my propensity toward motion sickness has seemed to increase over the past several years, and being on a boat, even a nice, flat catamaran like the Kitty Kat (yes, that is the name of their boat), reminded me of such. I felt fine for the first couple hours, and was even impressed with how normal I felt, for a while. By the time we got to the Farallone Islands, I was popping ginger candy like it was, well, candy.

So many sea birds!

So many sea birds!

The first notable animal we came across was, sadly, a dead, discolored, and very bloated bottlenose dolphin. Actually, the person who had originally spotted it had thought it was a leatherback sea turtle due to the yellow tint of the dolphin’s skin. The naturalist warned us, over the microphone, that children and those of the squeamish persuasion would be better suited looking in the opposite direction.

At about fifteen minutes into our boat ride we saw our first whale, not even out of the bay yet.

A faraway humpback whale, still in the bay

A faraway humpback whale, still in the bay

Most of the whales we saw on our tour were humpbacks, who arc out of the water’s glassy surface so beautifully, spray their misty spout, and plunge back down, but not before waving with that mermaid-esque split tail.

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They also like to alternate lifting their fins out of the water, like waving hands.

"Heeellllooooooooooooo"

“Heeellllooooooooooooo”

The naturalist said this behavior had something to do with the bacteria and barnacles growing on their skin. I like to think they were just saying hello, but I don’t speak whale.

They were so close to the boat!

They were so close to the boat!

I was also impressed with the amount of sea birds we saw, especially on the Farallone Islands, which are actually just a few big rocky caves covered in bird poo and a couple of research buildings. The stench did not allay my nausea, in case you were wondering.

Fish poo-scented Farallone Islands

Fish poo-scented Farallone Islands

On the trip back, we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.The clouds had lifted so that the whole of the bay was sunny and clear.

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Thanks for the photoshoot, Michael!

Thanks for the photoshoot, Michael!

After disembarking, Matt and I shared an obligatory order of fish tacos on the pier.

Mmm fresh fish tacos

Mmm fresh fish tacos

I tried my best to balance out my nausea by concentrating on my hunger, and we headed back to Michael’s house to change into land-appropriate attire. For dinner, we ate at a delicious Chinese restaurant that specialized in dumplings, appropriately called Shanghai Dumpling King. I insisted we order a bok choy dish so that I could say I ate at least one vegetable in San Francisco. (Oh, sushi’s not a vegetable?)

On Monday morning, Matt and I got an early, pre-sunrise start on our drive to Big Sur, and then Groveland, California, just outside Yosemite National Park. Stay tuned for Part II of my blog post for gorgeous pictures of Big Sur, and harrowing tales from Yosemite.

Up next, glorious Big Sur

Up next, glorious Big Sur. Yes, I actually took this photograph.

Love to all.

My Summer Reads

I love that it’s summer. Seriously. Laramie is gorgeous right now – colorful, sunny, lush, and comfortable. The highs in the summer here reach the highs 70’s, low 80’s (Fahrenheit, duh), which is room temperature in the South. If that doesn’t make you want to come visit us, I don’t know what will!

I have a lot I want to read this summer, but I’m optimistic that all the time spent in airports and camp chairs will provide me with plenty of time to read. So, since there’s enough time left for a summer reading list, let’s do it. Here are the books I’ve read, the ones I’m muddling through, and the ones still out there, waiting.

Books I’ve Read:

SummerSisters

  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume is a bestselling novel for a reason (maybe the #1 of which is that it’s by Judy Blume). It’s hard to put this thing down. The narration follows the development of the protagonist’s best friendship with an enigmatic girl over the course of many years, from middle school to adulthood. Chapters alternate narrators, though the longest and most in-depth passages are in the protagonist’s voice. The friendship culminates in a dramatic and tragic end. A fun but intense read that’s perfect for summer!
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a memoir by Rebecca Solnit, a prolific California-based activist and writer. I have my sister Libby to credit for giving this book to me for Christmas. Part memoir, part essay, Solnit explores her obsession with the natural world alongside history both personal and official. One of my favorite passages: “Gravity is about motion, weight, resistance, force, the most primal experience after all the touches on our skin, of being corporeal. And so it may be that gravity is a sweet taste of mortality and our strength to resist it, a luxuriating in the pull of the earth and the pull of muscles against it, in the momentum the two create, and in how close you can cut it, just as sex for women has the twin possibilities of procreation and annihilation.” Another bit of Solnit wisdom: “…teenagers imagine dying young because death is more imaginable than the person that all the decisions and burdens of adulthood may make of you.” Lots of good stuff in here, written in beautiful prose. I especially recommend this book to those who fancy themselves writers.
  • Modern Romance is a nonfiction title by Aziz Ansari, a comedian, which delves into the world of dating after the introduction of online dating and hookup apps like Tinder. With the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari looks specifically at dating cultures in America, Brazil, Japan, and Iran, and features many conversations he’s had with both couples and single adults about the process of  finding a mate. I listened to this audiobook via Audible.com and, as it was narrated by Ansari himself, I recommend listening to it over buying a physical copy. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research presented in this book, though I still enjoyed Ansari’s quips, jokes, and funny anecdotes as expected. Let me tell you- this book made me SO GRATEFUL that I am not single right now, yeesh.
  • IntotheWildI finally read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Well, to be precise, I listened to it. My favorite parts were actually not about the protagonist, Chris McCandless, but about the other ill-fated adventurers to whom Krakauer compared him. I’m on this Western lit kick, and this got me started.
  • I received a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling from Birchbox for making a purchase over, I believe, $35. In case you don’t recognize the name, Kaling is a comedy writer and Dartmouth graduate who worked on the American version of the NBC show “The Office,” both as a writer and actress (in the role of obsessive, crazy, and beautiful Kelly Kapoor). She now writes and stars in her own show on network TV, “The Mindy Project.” She has recently come out with a new book, Why Not Me. This book is often laugh-out-loud funny and, as a young woman, it’s very encouraging to hear about Mindy’s early struggles as a hungry, poor New Yorker, and her rise to success.

I’m Working on It:

  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories by Wendell Berry: I’m listening to this on audiobook via Audible.com and it is perfect and beautiful and moving and sometimes funny too. The stories follow average people in a small southern farming town over the course of several generations. Many of the same characters pop up in different stories, though each has a separate narrator. Beautifully woven together. I love listening to it on long drives and while walking Abe or doing chores. I might just have to buy a paper copy when I’m done listening, for future reference, of course.
  • angleofreposeAngle of Repose is a novel by Wallace Stegner, one of the great American writers, by whom I’m still ashamed to say I have not read anything. This is a continuation of my desire to read more Western American literature, since my education in North Carolina was so heavily steeped in Southern literature (rightly so, I think). This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, which should be enough description alone but, if you need more, know that this is another generation-spanning story featuring one family, as seen through the eyes of its aging historian narrator.
  • I am very slowly making my way through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy them, but because reading them all at once is like trying to make a meal out of caramels- sensationally overwhelming. And kind of stupid. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I should try to read some poems written by people who are actually still alive,” then look no further than Jack Gilbert (and Mary Oliver, below). Unflinchingly honest and beautiful language are characteristic of these marvelous poems, which will remind you why you knew somewhere, deep down, that you loved poetry.
  • Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1 has been sitting by my bed for about a year because I’m slowly making my way through it and back through it again like a trail through a wood. Oliver’s poetry is just spectacular. Each word is in its proper and most beheartidiotautiful place. She writes of everything this world is made of – feathers, sky, water, fire, skin, mist, lily petals – and writes it into life.
  • My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart: I know, I know- my Goodreads account says that I’ve already read this one. The truth is, I started it long ago, lost it, and for several months had no idea where it was, and I was tired of seeing it on my list of “Currently Reading,” reminding me of what a loser I was. My Heart has since been resurrected in my house (I think it was living on top of the piano), so I return to this abdominal-muscles-achingly hilarious collection of essays. Rothbart has been featured on NPR’s marvelous storytelling show “This American Life,” and with good reason. Give this book to the macho guy who thinks he’s read enough books to quote Hemingway every time he orders a drink. It won’t make him any less of an insufferable nuisance, but it will force him to acknowledge your (and Rothbart’s) awesomeness.

And, Still on the List:

  • FindtheGoodFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
  • Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder
  • Healing Yoga by Loren Fishman
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

As you can see, I’m trying to make up for lost time with Wendell Berry. Last, but not least…

Can’t Forget the Cookbooks:

  • Plenty by Yotam Olenghetti is one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. This is enough of a reason to buy it, yes? Olenghetti is a world-renowned chef and restauranteur in London, but he is originally from Israel, and his recipes are often thus inspired. All the recipes in this book are vegetarian, but not in that boring let’s-use-tofu-to-make-this-dish-suitable-as-supper kind of way. Olenghetti himself isn’t even a vegetarian, but he values using seasonal produce and making it taste GOOD. If you abstain from meat, this book is a necessity.
  • SheetPanSuppersI was more excited about Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert before I got it in the mail. Silly me, I thought the “Suppers” in the title was indicative of the types of recipes this book would contain. Alas, only about a fifth of the recipes are full meals. The rest are appetizers, breakfast/brunch, dessert, etc. That’s not to say they’re not good, though. I’ve made several of the dishes in this book, including the cover (using salmon instead), and they’ve impressed me with how hands-off and simple they are. Plus, pulling a colorful, well-roasted dish out of the oven is always an awe-inspiring experience.
  • Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy & Wholesome by Virginia Willis was an impulse purchase. I think I read about it first on Food52. Willis is a genius- these recipes are healthy takes on everything you know from your Southern childhood (or from watching the Walton’s – no, that’s just me?). So far I’ve made biscuits, peach cobbler, collard greens, and fisherman’s stew, and they’ve all been pretty much perfect. If you’re sensitive to the vinegar or the ham normally hiding in restaurant collards, the recipe in this book will make you happy. If you’re a human being, the recipe for peach cobbler in this book will make you happy.

I’d love to hear what you all are reading this summer, or what’s still on the list. Any recommendations? Obsessions?

Love to all.

Baking Bread

When I was little, I used to asked my Oma (“grandma” in German) how her hands were so soft. She told me that her kneading bread softened the skin of her hands over time.

Oma passed away earlier this year, in case you didn’t read my earlier blog post about her. Oma made this one particular type of bread so often that our entire family refers to it as “Oma bread;” and I’ve been meaning to make it since her funeral this summer. I acquired the recipe from my uncle Tom, my dad’s younger brother, who has made it many times. I shy away from bread recipes that require kneading since, I don’t know, that sounds like a lot of work, right? When I lived in Chapel Hill, I had access to delicious, fresh bread everywhere. The Guglhupf, an amazing German bakery in Durham, North Carolina, was only twenty minutes away. To note, if you’ve never visited a local bakery, fresh bread is CHEAP!

There aren’t any bakeries in Laramie that make fresh bread (there is one that focuses mostly on wedding cakes and other fancy pastries), so I’ve been making a lot of this King Arthur flour recipe, which doesn’t require any kneading (hooray!). It’s a great first loaf if you’ve never made bread before. It’s also fairly versatile; I’ve used it for circular sourdough-esque loaves as well as baguettes.

I felt like baking something this past Sunday because, well, it was Sunday. And the weather is beginning to deteriorate; we’ve had such a wonderful fall in Laramie this year! But today it snowed, and is still snowing.

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

And the email Tom sent me with the recipe has been burning a hole in my inbox. I told Matt, “I think I’m going to make Oma bread today,” and he asked, “Home-ah bread?” I said, “No, OMA bread – duh!”

So, without further ado, the (now) world famous OMA BREAD RECIPE!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached flour (up to 1/2c more while kneading)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 7-8 Tbsp frozen unsalted butter (8 tbsp = 1 stick)
  • 2 small packages yeast
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp anise (aka fennel) seeds
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ground zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp to brush loaf before baking

Steps:

  1. Set out the three eggs you’ll be using for the dough in order to bring them to room temperature.
  2. Microwave the cup of milk until it is warm enough that you can keep your finger in it for 5 seconds without feeling the need to yank it out – warm, but not hot. While microwaving, pour the sugar into your largest mixing bowl.

    Setting up

    Setting up

  3. Take 2 pinches of the sugar from the mixing bowl and drop them into the cup of milk. Add the 2 packets of yeast to the milk; do not stir. The sugar and the warm temperature of the milk will help to activate the yeast. If you’ve overheated the milk (as I did), simply let it cool for a minute or two before adding the yeast.
  4. Add the flour, egg, anise seeds, and salt to the sugar in the large mixing bowl.
  5. To capture the egg yolks, crack the eggs over a separate, small bowl. Drop the shell’s contents into your other hand, above the small bowl. Allow the yolk to sit in your hand while the white drips into the bowl between your fingers. Once you’ve sifted out the egg white, drop the yolk into the large mixing bowl with all the other ingredients. Repeat with the second egg yolk.
  6. To collect the ground lemon zest, use a zester or a grater. Add the zest to the other ingredients.

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

  7. For the butter: my Oma’s original recipe calls for room temperature butter to be added directly to the dough, but because I live in a small household, I almost always keep my full sticks of butter in the freezer, which means I have to know WAY ahead of time if I’ll be needing a full stick at room temperature later. I once read a recipe for scones that called for grated frozen butter, and I’ve been using this trick ever since. Take a cheese grater, like perhaps the one you used for the lemon, and an unwrapped stick of frozen butter, fresh out of the freezer. Grate the frozen butter – it will create beautiful little curly-cues that then stick together. Don’t worry! Once you add the clumped curly-cues, they will mix easily into your dough. After grating the whole stick, or 7/8 of it, add the butter to the dough. Mix the dough with a spoon.

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like - pretty enough to eat!

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like – pretty enough to eat!

  8. After mixing, check your yeast mixture. Is it foamy? If so, it is ready to add to the rest of the dough. (If not, wait a little longer. If it doesn’t foam after 10-15 minutes, either your milk was too hot/cold, or your yeast is bad.) Make a little indentation in the center of your dough. Pour the milky yeast mixture into that dent, and begin to mix with a spoon.
  9. After the dough is mostly mixed, switch to kneading with the hands until you get a smooth ball.

    Relatively smooth, anyway

    Relatively smooth, anyway

  10. Place plastic wrap or a cloth loosely over the bowl containing the ball of dough and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it’s doubled, 1.5-1.75 hours (or 1 hour if you live at 7,000 feet above sea level like I do!).
  11. After the dough is risen, knead it a little more. Take it out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 logs, or more, depending on what you want the loaf to look like.
    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    Interweave your logs to create a braided strand or loaf, and tuck the ends underneath the loaf. (I used this YouTube tutorial to braid my loaf like traditional Challah. Feel free to experiment here! What’s the point of all this work if your bread doesn’t end up being delicious AND pretty?!)

    Ta-da!

    Ta-da!

  12. Let the loaf rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  13. While the loaf is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place a pizza stone inside to warm along with the oven. A pizza stone will help to evenly bake your bread. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can just use a cookie sheet – no need to place it in the preheating oven.
  14. Mix your egg yolk and milk in a small bowl until the liquid is a pale yellow.
    Getting ready to mix

    Fixin’ to mix

    Once the loaf has risen, brush it over with the yolk mixture. This will make your bread look pretty! All brown and shiny.

    Brushed & ready to bake

    Brushed & ready to bake

  15. Lift the parchment paper to transfer the bread to either your cookie sheet or your preheated pizza stone. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the top is browned but the center is done.
All done!

All done!

Congratulations! You’ve made OMA BREAD!!! Taste it to understand our family’s obsession. Oma bread is good all by itself (obviously!), or with a little raspberry jam – organic, if you’re eating it in the spirit of Oma herself. I’m considering making some French toast with it one morning. What do you think?

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Love to all.

Visits Facilitate Adventures

A couple weekends ago Matt’s cousins came to visit us from California. His cousin Kelsey was passing through on a roadtrip with her boyfriend David, and Kelsey’s brother Chris flew in just for the weekend. Obviously we had to throw down and show them the best of Mountain West! (Take note, Mom & Dad!)

Friday night we had people over to celebrate Matt finally finishing his exams (which he passed, by the way)! I made some homemade ginger beergaritas and set out snacks. Afterwards, at their request, we took Kelsey and David to the Buckhorn, a historic downtown Laramie establishment with a real live bullet hole in the mirrored wall behind the bar.

The next morning we had some breakfast burritos and made our sleepy way out to Medicine Bow National Forest for some snowshoeing. Matt had rented us snowshoes the day before. And yes, there is still snow on the ground up there – like, deep snow.

From L to R: Kelsey, Matt, and David on the ascent

From L to R: Kelsey, Matt (our fearless guide!), and David on the ascent

We parked in a pull-off next to some snowmobilers and cross country skiers, about 45 minutes from our house, strapped on our snowshoes, and headed waywardly toward Medicine Bow Peak.

View of a frozen lake on our way up

View of a frozen lake on our way up

The snow’s consistency alternated between icy in the shade and slushy in the sun, which is why we were there in the morning, before the snow turned entirely to slush. Even snowshoes can sink in snow like that.

Matt, David, and Kelsey taking in the view

Matt, David, and Kelsey taking in the view

As you can see by our outfits, it wasn’t particularly cold; the snow is still there because there’s so much of it, though the temperature does drop to below freezing at night up there.

We did it!

We did it!

After the somewhat treacherous descent (snowshoes aren’t really designed to go downhill), we had lunch at the Beartree Tavern in Centennial on the way back to Laramie. Kelsey and I had their famous “bestest ever” green chili, and we all shared some pie a la mode for dessert.

Chris flew into Denver, rented a car, and met us at our house in Laramie that afternoon. With a bad weather forecast looming, we drove about a half hour up to a small sport climbing area off Happy Jack Road near Vedauwoo affectionately called Beehive Buttress.

We got rained on almost immediately, but we stuck it out through the scattered showers to do some climbing. It always surprises me how much colder it is up on the mountain than in the Laramie valley. The wind is usually worse once you’re on an exposed, rocky mountaintop too.

Kelsey and Chris had done a little climbing when they visited us in North Carolina a few years ago, so they made all the climbs we put up for them look easy. (Also I’m convinced Matt’s genetics make him and his cousins predisposed toward climbing.) Abe didn’t do any climbing, but he found some mud and promptly sat in it.

Back in town, we rushed to Jeffrey’s before they closed at 9 (on a Saturday night, yep. Welcome to Laramie!) to get some dinner.

On Sunday morning we drove up to Vedauwoo to show our visitors the classic climbing areas. We hiked around a little, met up with our friends Meredith and Bart, and convinced them to put up a fun 5.8 crack climb called Captain Nemo for us.

Meredith belays Bart as he places gear up Captain Nemo, 5.8

Meredith belays Bart as he places gear up Captain Nemo, 5.8

We got rained on a little at Vedauwoo too, but it blew over shortly and the sun came back out to keep the Californians semi-warm.

The view from the bottom of Captain Nemo

The view across the valley from the bottom of Captain Nemo

Kelsey and David had to drive to North Dakota that afternoon to continue their roadtrip, so they left Vedauwoo around noon. Chris, Matt, and I started to get hungry (we hadn’t packed lunch, oops!), so we drove back into town to get burgers at The Crowbar & Grill.

Chris at the bottom of Captain Nemo

Chris at the bottom of Captain Nemo

After lunch we went back up to Vedauwoo and did a two-pitch 5.7 called Edward’s Crack. “Pitches” is just an indicator of the length of rope. So if a climbing route is longer than a single pitch, you can’t get all the way to the top with a single standard 60-70m rope. Instead, the climbers have to stop at some point on the way up, set up an “anchor” from which to belay, and inchworm their way up the mountain; the leader climbs up first with the rope, and the other climber follows, bringing up the rest of the rope, and this pattern continues up each pitch of the climb.

Doing a multi-pitch route with three people is a little complicated and time-consuming, so we all had lots of time to check out the view from the middle and top of the climb.

We watched the sun set from the summit, and rappelled back down in time to hike back to the car at dusk. Sufficiently worn out from all that climbing and hiking, we crashed on the couch and watched half of a movie while eating some shaved asparagus pizza, yum!

I had to work on Monday, but before I woke up at 7, Matt and Chris were already gone snowhoeing up at Medicine Bow Peak since Chris missed it on Saturday morning. Needless to say, Matt was pretty exhausted when I came home at lunch to walk Abe. He basically lived on the couch for the next couple days.

If the weather chooses to be agreeable, you really can pack a lot of adventures into one little weekend here in Laramie!

Love to all.

Salt Lake City Weekend

For the long MLK weekend, Matt and I bid adieu to Laramie and headed for Salt Lake City, where fellow UNC graduates and friends Kyle, Tallie, Sara, and Dan now reside. Both Dan and Kyle are in graduate school at the University of Utah there. It took a little under six hours for us to get there, but it’s fairly easy driving across wide open Wyoming plains. Of course, this is easy for me to say, as I did zero driving and 100% passenger-ing.

Coming into Salt Lake City, the highway cuts through Echo Canyon before descending through the ski areas and surrounding mountains into the valley. There was actual traffic, which was unnerving.

We arrived late Friday night and had some beer with our leftover birthday cake (Matt turned 26 on January 15, me 24 on the 13th). I can’t resist sharing my little birthday cake photo collage with you all. So proud.

Matt delves into the first slice

Matt delves into the first slice

I followed the recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook by the letter to make this red wine velvet cake with whipped mascarpone cheese. Lots of butter, cocoa, and pinot noir were involved. Yum!

Kyle and Tallie were kind to host us in their apartment on the upper edge of the valley. Their street dead-ends into an amazing view of the city sprawl.

Saturday we went bouldering in Joe’s Valley a couple hours outside of the city.

Carrying crash pads up the trail

Carrying crash pads up the trail

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing where, well, you climb boulders. Because the routes are much shorter than routes on a rock wall or up a mountain, the routes tend to be more difficult, and ropes aren’t used. Instead, boulderers use crash pads, which you can see in the picture above. Climbers unfold the crash pads beneath a route they want to try and overlay them so you don’t hit the ground when you fall.

Matt on a boulder problem

Matt on a boulder problem

Because of the way most boulders are shaped, boulder problems (routes on a boulder) tend to involve an overhanging section, and then a top-out, where the climber makes their way up over a ledge to the top of the boulder, as you can see Matt doing above.

Kyle and the blue, blue sky

Kyle and the blue, blue sky

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. In the sun, with zero wind, you could easily strip down to a t-shirt. Occasionally.

Unfortunately I managed to injure myself on the second problem I tried. On the way off a dynamic move, one in which the climber has to jump, my left shoulder popped out of its joint briefly, then went back in. Ouch! I chalk it up to a combination of not climbing enough and doing too much yoga, thereby having unusually loose joints and weaker upper body muscles.

I therefore spent most of the remaining afternoon hanging out, spotting friends (standing nearby with arms out to catch their head and push them onto the crash pad in case they should fall), petting the dog, and making Matt take pictures with me.

Squinty in the sun

Squinty in the sun

You can see how pretty Utah is in the background!

On Sunday we went up to Snowbird to ski and snowboard. Only later via some Googling did Matt and I learn that Snowbird is not a good place for beginners like us. As Tallie said, when she and Kyle bought season passes this year, they figured they would have to get good FAST.

I’m starting to learn how snow conditions really affect the way you ski and how skiing feels. Fresh powder is nice, but deep fresh powder can cause some problems if you’re me, on skis. Ice makes a very distinct sound under your skis and inhibits control.

Riding a lift at Snowbird

Riding a lift at Snowbird

The Salt Lake City-area hadn’t seen any snow in a while, so conditions were icier than any of us would have liked, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the view and the sun!

Sara took this picture of us on the lift! L to R: Matt, me, Tallie, Sara

Sara took this picture of us on the lift! L to R: Matt, me, Tallie, Sara

It was so warm in the sun that I wore just one long-sleeve shirt under my rain shell. Defeated after a couple unsuccessful attempts on Tallie’s skis, I went to the rental shop and got some shorter skis and gave Tallie hers back.

Photo credit to Sara for this panorama shot of me & Tallie. MOUNTAINS!

Photo credit to Sara for this panorama shot of me & Tallie. MOUNTAINS!

Sunday night we finished off the cake while Matt picked up our friend Jon from the Salt Lake airport, who was flying in from Durham, NC to represent Mammut at the Outdoor Retailer show, and also to ski.

Sunday morning we went out for brunch at a cute, busy place called Eggs in the City.

Yummy breakfast scramble

Yummy breakfast scramble

Afterwards, we stopped by Trader Joe’s so I could stock up on delicious things like almond croissants and jalapeno cilantro hummus before heading back across Wyoming toward Laramie.

Because Matt is attending school full-time and I’m working full-time, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to go on these fun weekend adventures and outdoor getaways. Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah make up a beautiful, wild part of this country, and we are lucky to be here, especially when it’s not too cold!

Love to all.

Christmas Season

If I could frame this post with a border resembling a pixelated holly garland, I totally would. It’s CHRISTMAS SEASON!

But first, it was Thanksgiving season. Since I work in the financial industry, I had to return to the office on Friday because the market was open. This prevented Matt and me from going down to Indian Creek, Utah for some long-weekend climbing with a few of our friends. Without any plans, I suddenly realized that, in order for me to feel like it’s actually Thanksgiving, there has to be lots of yummy food. That’s the best part of the holiday, or any holiday, really.

Preparing some root veggies for roasting

Preparing some root veggies for roasting (purple potatoes, carrots, fennel)

I also made a pie!

It's a masala-spiced pear pie

It’s a masala-spiced pear pie with a fancy crust

We had one of Matt’s fellow grad students over since his family is in Bangladesh, and he didn’t really know what Thanksgiving was. And no, I did not make a turkey! A roasted chicken was a better choice for us three.

Anyway, back to CHRISTMAS. Last weekend Matt and I went skiing/snowboarding and climbing, so we didn’t have a chance to pick up a Christmas tree. Here in Wyoming, most families get a $10 permit from the US Forest Service to cut down their own tree on federal land. There are several different varieties of pines and firs in the nearby mountain forests.

Some of the available trees

Some of the available trees

As you can see above, the roads weren’t in great condition up in the mountains. We got about 7 inches of snow in town this week, and the higher elevations got more. Despite Matt’s trying to concentrate on driving, I made him listen to my Christmas playlist the whole way there.

The Forest Service limits you to a tree no taller than 20 feet, with a diameter no larger than 6 inches. You also have to be at least 500 feet from any road and 200 feet from any trail when you cut down the tree, so there was a little bit of deep-snow-bushwhacking/adventuring on our part.

That’s when we stumbled upon this beauty:

The tree!

The tree!

Though she was covered in snow, we noted her nice shape and not-too-tall size. Matt took the newly-purchased saw out of his backpack and got to work. We were almost knee-deep in snow in places, and it was hard to tell if your next step would lead to solid ground or slippery fallen tree trunk.

I sawed through the second half of the little tree trunk and Matt hefted the tree over his shoulder. We followed our tracks in the snow back to the car.

Matt carrying the tree

Matt carrying the tree, back on the trail

It was amazing to us how quiet things were up on the snowy mountain. Without any wind, and with what I presume to be many creatures in hibernation, there was a peaceful stillness. Matt remarked it would be nice to just take a hike through the area one day. Most people seem to do so with cross-country skis.

The weather was almost perfect: slightly overcast, ~10 degrees, the aforementioned lack of wind.

After sawing off more of the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

After sawing off the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

We then made our way back through Centennial, a charming Wyoming mountain town with a population of 270. There are a few little stores and restaurants in town, and we stopped at the Beartree Tavern for some warm soup, chili, and garlic bread smeared with pesto.

Matt kindly pulled over for me on the way home so I could take some photos of this gorgeous frozen river scene. The ghostly orb in the upper right corner is the sun behind fog and cloud cover.

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Finishing off the remaining hot chocolate I’d brought with me, we pulled into the driveway and began setting up our new Christmas tree! Somehow we managed to saw just the right amounts off both the top and bottom of the tree, such that it fit perfectly from floor to ceiling.

Decorating the tree! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn't fall on the gas fireplace

Decorating! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn’t fall on the gas fireplace

Though our tree doesn’t have the requisite fullness of the typical suburban grocery store parking lot tree, I think it’s pretty darn cute. I wonder how many years it took for our tree to grow to this size, how many winters it’s seen.

My favorite feature of the good old Tannenbaum, other than its softly lit night beauty, has to be its scent. It is, after all, the strongest sense linked to memory. Hand me a mug of hot cocoa (maybe with a splash of Goldschlaeger in it) and sit me in front of a toasty fireplace by a fresh Douglas fir, and that is Christmas past to me.

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!

Hearty Spanish Chicken Soup for Cold Weather

Who wants sooouuuppp???? Everyone loves soup, especially when there are a good five inches of crusty snow on the ground outside. Matt and I just bought season passes to a local ski area in the Snowy Range (yes, that’s really what the mountains are called). I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before! Even typing out the word “skiing” makes me pause – two i’s? In a row? Is this Danish?

Understandably, I went on a soup kick this past week. In my cooking endeavors thus far, I’ve come to learn that you can go pretty much anywhere with soup so long as you have an onion, some garlic, a can or two of tomatoes, and some broth. Kale is always a welcome addition, of course.

Leftovers make for a good desk lunch!

Leftovers make for a good desk lunch.

Inspired by this hearty recipe, I ended up with the following Spanish-esque chicken soup. The unique mixture of spices makes the dish both sweet and savory. I’d say it serves 4, though you could always add more chicken if needed. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces (I thawed frozen ones)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 white or yellow onion
  • 1 cup fresh green beans, ends removed & cut into 1.5-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup wild rice mix (you can also use white jasmine or basmati rice)
  • 4 cups chicken broth/stock
  • 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
Even in a tupperware, it looks pretty

Even in a tupperware, it looks pretty!

Directions:

  • Coarsely chop the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots.
  • Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery, alongside a couple pinches of salt & pepper. Saute, stirring frequently until softened.
  • Add the carrots and all 4 cups of the chicken broth. Stir and let simmer over medium heat. Once the liquid is boiling, turn heat to low and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.
  • Pour in the can of tomatoes with its juices. Stir to add the chunks of raw chicken breasts and cut green beans.
  • Add in the wild rice mix with 2 cups of water.
  • Add all the spices (cinnamon, cumin, paprika, oregano, bay leaves) and bring the soup to a boil.
  • Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the soup once more. Simmer for another 45-60 minutes.
  • Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Check the soup for seasoning to add more salt if necessary.

Enjoy your yummy soup! If you end up making it, or get inspired by this recipe to make something else, I’d love to hear about it. Let me know how it goes!