Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Climb Every Mountain (Summer Recap Series)

Can I just say, it was a glorious summer?  I really wanted to recap my Summer-of-Outdoor-Adventuring-and-General-Merriment earlier this year but said "Outdoor Adventuring and General Merriment" somehow got in the way.  I'm going to do a lil recap series while it's cold and gray outside.  First stop...South Sister climb!

This was one of the THE HIGHLIGHTS of the year!  

It was so beautiful.

Breathtaking scenery as far as the eye could see...

I'd like to also add that it was one of THE hardest things I have ever done.  Ever. Ever. Ever.  I thought I was in pretty good shape.  How quickly the proud can fall (figuratively and yes, literally.  I fell several times down the slippery shale slopes - thankfully not a great distance).

View from the summit.  Aren't those lakes amazing?

This is me.  Really, it is.

Doesn't this look Tolkienesque?  (Is that a word?  I don't know but I'm sticking with it).  This is a glacier...and I walked across it.  <-- wouldn't that make a great opening line?  I think I'll use it as the beginning of my epic poem about climbing the South Sister.  Please cue a soaring instrumental music score now.

I'll be the first to admit that at the beginning of this year I definitely fell into the Novice Hiker category.  Thankfully, my outdoorsy relatives stepped in and coached me in the following arenas:

1.  Gear.  It is totally true that your gear can make or break your outdoor adventure.  Waterproof jackets?  Yep, they are super handy when it rains while you are hiking.  I know it's difficult to imagine this could actually happen in the Pacific Northwest.  Trekking poles - yep, super awesome when you are scrambling up and down the side of a mountain.  REI and Columbia are great resources for gear - just keep your eyes peeled for sales.  I actually bought my trekking poles from Costco.

2. Safety.  It seems like you are always hearing about hikers who get into trouble.  A lot of it is common sense but it definitely pays off to think through safety and scenarios to avoid becoming the hiker that gets dehydrated or lost.  Here's a great article on The 10 Essentials

3.  Nutrition & Hydration.  When I was packing food for the South Sister hike I thought I was packing WAY too much food.  Thankfully my uncle assessed my provisions and said I had maybe half of what I needed.  Incredulous, I complied and doubled my food and threw in an extra 32 oz of water.  I ate EVERYTHING!  Bagels, protein bars, M&Ms, jerky, nuts, apple, orange, peanut butter, tuna. When you are hiking for 12+ hours you burn through calories like nobody's business.  And don't underestimate how much water you need.  If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. 

I love the feeling of accomplishment when you complete something that is truly a challenge and forces you to dig deep.  I credit climbing the South Sister 2 months before my marathon with really helping my physical and mental endurance (you can't exactly quit when have 5 hours left and a mountain to climb down efore you get back to your car).  The elation I felt when I reached the summit and looked out the the view is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.  Such a high!

And while the weather outside is frightful (aka cold and rainy), I know spring and summer hiking adventures are just around the corner!



Saturday, December 20, 2014

'Tis the Season...

For Christmas BAKING!  This is going to be a long post.  I'd suggest brewing a cup of tea and putting your feet up.  Or if you are reading this while waiting in line at the mall, that works too.

Last year I was packing up my apartment and readying myself for my migration to the Pacific Northwest (oh, and getting the swine flu for a second time while I was at it).  Suffice it to say, I took a year off from Christmas baking. It is rather difficult to bake when 1) you have packed up all your cookie sheets and 2) you feel like death.

Fast forward to 2014.  I was wanting to dive into Christmas baking in a MAJOR way.  Of course, I needed a partner-in-crime and baker extraordinaire.  This just happens to be be my wonderful, BBC-loving cousin, Elisa.  We decided that we both wanted to bake cookies so we might as well do it together!  It was the perfect solution and a tradition I intend to continue for many, many years.

We decided that we would each make several different kinds of cookies and then bake/decorate them at my house.  Here's what went down:

Elisa made several splendid cookie doughs:  gingerbread (think citrus peel and spices), chocolate mint and cranberry coconut.  So delish.

Per the usual, I went completely overboard.  This could be attributed to any and all of the following reasons:
1) I haven't baked in a long time
2) I bought 4 pounds of butter at Costco which made me a little giddy
3) I just can't help myself

I've been wanting to experiment with biscotti and shortbread for a while so thought this was the perfect time.  I made a spiced biscotti, a rosemary/currant/pine nut biscotti, pecan shortbread, lavender & lemon shortbread, sour cream cookies (I will discuss the frosting of these cookies later, prepare yourself), and sea-salt chocolate pecan bars.

"Isn't butter divinity?" Amy March in Little Women
The makings of biscotti - a work in progress
My biscotti making was an experiment and I still need to tweak the process.  But I love that biscotti is a blank canvas and you can really get creative with flavors.  I wanted something that screamed "Italian!" and "Holiday!" so I opted for the rosemary, pine nut and currant combination.  Flavor-wise it was totally groovy.

And in a total fail moment, I failed to take pictures of my shortbread.  But this shortbread is so delicious I think I will do an entire post about it.  Let's just say I've been obsessed with lavender since I became addicted to the French Lavender Breve at Lavender & Honey in Pasadena.  Oh, all right.  Because you asked.  Here's a picture of me and my adorable new nephew at L&H.

Scrumptious.  And I don't just mean the coffee.  This lil guy is my FAVORITE!
And I have no idea who that woman is in the window behind me.  
Where was I?  Oh yes, lavender shortbread.  I promise I will get a recipe posted here soon for that.  I just want to adjust it ever so slightly.  And I need to go buy more butter.

You all know I like to keep it real here on the blog.  So, this is what my kitchen table looked like. We were basically operating a cookie factory.  Yes, those are cookies in a Ziploc bag on the floor at the top of the photo.  We had plumb run out of counter space.

Real life, folks.

Note the plate and cup in the background.  You can't bake cookies unless you are eating them at the same time.
Aren't gingerbread cookies the cutest?!  Elisa frosted these.  I have zero frosting capability.
A holiday centerpiece can help make order out of your cookie extravaganza. 
Now, for sugar cookies (you know, the ones you frost and decorate).  I grew up making these Sour Cream Cookies that are all kinds of awesome.  It's a recipe we found in a tattered Pillsbury Baking pamphlet and they are amazing.  They have nutmeg which is such a holiday flavor and really takes them up a notch.  They are also pretty darn easy to roll out.  The trouble is that I always double the recipe and so I end up rolling and cutting out thousands dozens and dozens of these babies.  However, this year they turned out to be the perfect blank canvas for my newest maniacal creation - Maple Browned Butter Frosting. Yep, you heard me.  Buckle your seatbelts.

I am not a huge frosting fan (gasp).  I like cream cheese icing for sure but regular frosting is usually too cloyingly sweet for me.  I figured if butter could be the star of the show, maybe, just maybe I'd finally find a frosting recipe I'd like.  Mission accomplished.  I mean, browned butter makes everything better.  How could I have ever doubted its' prowess in the frosting arena??

I ended up making this frosting pretty thin so that we could just dip the cookies in the frosting and forget that whole "frost with a butter knife and have it look like it was done by a kindergartner" business.

So, here's the frosting of all frosting recipes.  And because I love you, the Sour Cream Cookie recipe too.

Maple Browned Butter Frosting 
Makes: About 2 cups of frosting
Prep time: 10 minutes
Kitchen Gear Required:  Saucepan, spoon, measuring cup, mixer

1 stick salted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp maple flavoring
2-4 Tbsp milk
Food coloring, optional

Ready, set, go!
1.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Watch it like a hawk until it starts to get all foamy, goldeny and brown.  But not burnt.  We don't want burnt butter frosting.
2.  Pour browned butter into a bowl and add 2 cups of powdered sugar.  Mix together with hand mixer (it will look weird and lumpy).
3.  Gradually add in milk to get consistency you are looking for.  This takes some time.  Keep mixing until it's perfect.  This is also the time to add food coloring if you are wanting the icing to have a color other than maple-brown (which is the way I tend to go).
4.  Frost cookies.
5.  Frost cinnamon rolls.
6.  Frost toast.
7.  Frost spoon.  Lick said spoon.

Sour Cream Cookies
Makes: A lot (I feel like this is totally subjective based on the size of cookie cutters, etc.)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 6-8 minutes
Kitchen gear required: Two bowls, hand mixer, measuring cups, measuring spoons, cookie cutters, cookie sheets, parchment paper (if desired), microplane zester (if using whole nutmeg)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (that's 1 stick, folks) salted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup regular sour-cream
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt or 1/4 tsp regular salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Ready, set, go!
1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Cream together sugar, butter, vanilla, egg and sour cream
2.  Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg)
3.  Mix together wet and dry ingredients.  Don't over beat the dough or the cookies will be tough.
4.  Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters.  You can also refrigerate the dough and roll out the cookies once you've cleaned up the kitchen (I never do this but it seems like a nice idea).
5.  Bake cookies on parchment-lined cookie sheets for 6-8 minutes.  Take them out while they are still pale for a softer cookie, leave them in until they are golden for a crispier cookie.
6.  Cool completely.  Frost with Maple Browned Butter Frosting for a delicious holiday treat!
7.  I am eating some for breakfast as I type this.

Sour Cream Cookies with Maple Browned Butter Frosting.