Choose your season

Yesterday the skies looked clear and I was in the mood for some mountain adventures. My day was free of any scheduled events, and I wanted to head off to Mount Rainier National Park. Not the National Forests, much as I normally love them, as it’s the start of deer season and hiking, in my view, just isn’t compatible with hunting. Multiple use land management philosophy once again falls apart.

In past years, when we had a dog that prevented us from hiking in the National Parks, I’d find myself on mountain trails in glorious fall weather and realize that the others on the trails were in hunting garb carrying guns. I worried enough about someone thinking my dog (a very furry white American Eskimo) was a mountain goat and shooting her that I clothed her in an bright orange dog vest. I also worried that Dave or I would get shot. Now that we don’t have a dog anymore, we can once again hike in the National Parks, so that’s where I choose to head at this time of year. We headed out yesterday morning prepared for cold weather. I admit also to being a gawker/ rubbernecker and wanted to see the site of the landslide that recently closed off a state highway. The temporary detour is now open to the public so that’s the route we took up to Mount Rainier. We didn’t see the landslide as the detour took us out of view of the highway at that spot, but it was a pretty drive with colors changing and blue skies. Or, blue skies just until we reached Chinook Pass, and a cloud of winter weather engulfed the area. We stopped at the parking lot to use the restroom and ponder our next steps. Our trail of first choice looked like it had a new layer of snow on it. Some other hikers were venturing out in winter wear, but there was a ferociously cold wind and treacherous footing, not what I savor for safe hiking. So we decided to head on further.

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As I headed down the other side of the pass into the park, on one of my least favorite mountain roads with hairpin turn after hairpin turn, the forest was a winter wonderland. Very pretty, but not what I really wanted yet. So we continued to drive, heading to the southeastern portion of the park. That’s the land of rain forests and large, old growth trees. And also temperatures at least 25 degrees warmer than at the pass! So we chose a lowland forest hike, leading us past the roaring waterfall of Silver Falls and into the Grove of the Patriachs. This photo isn’t mine, as I neglected to pack the camera for the hike but gives a good idea of what the area looks like.

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I like the description of the hike on one of the park service web pages. “This is, perhaps, one of the most memorable hikes in Mount Rainier National Park because it’s like entering a magical kingdom. This is rare, even in a region with so many really big trees. Think about it. Doesn’t “the grove of the patriarchs” have that special ring to it? Like a Tolkien ring? You’ll walk through a forest of old growth trees, some a thousand years old, onto an island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River. Better than some new world created for a virtual reality game, it’s all there for you to enjoy again and again.”

As we hiked, I was reminded of our family calendar from a few years ago (November 2003) that includes a photo of Dave , Kristin, Neil and Carrie circling the front part of one of the large trees in the Grove of the Patriachs.

Along with giant trees, we also enjoyed seeing lots of fall mushrooms, including a purple translucent looking one like I’ve never seen before. I especially liked the minature orange pixie caps, all just waiting for the forest pixies to come out cap shopping.

How to win friends (or, My “signature” cinnamon rolls)

I LOVE to bake. Cookies. Pies. Bread. But I haven’t done hardly any baking for many months. My midsection had outgrew my clothes, and I needed drastic measures. So, I quit baking. Week after week, I stuck to my resolve to lose weight. And gradually, very slowly, it has been coming off. But the urge to bake hasn’t gone away. So I decided a few nights ago to make up a pan of cinnamon rolls to bring to work. That way I get to bake, but don’t have a dozen cinnamon rolls to tempt Dave and me to indulge too freely. The rolls are ones I’ve made dozens of times. I use a bread machine, and they are easy for me to make the night before, refrigerate, then bake in the morning. I consider them my “signature” baked goods, what I make over and over again and that people have come to expect (or at least, hope for) from me. I think with pleasure of what I consider other people’s “signature” recipes – my mother’s almond kringles, my sister’s Amish potato rolls. But these pecan cinnamon rolls are mine.

It’s a recipe I clipped from a Better Homes and Garden magazine years ago (decades ago, really). I’ve revised it to use a bread machine, but you can make them the “old fashioned” way if you’d like. Also, the original recipe was named “raisin-pecan cinnamon rolls”. I don’t like raisins cooked into anything, so I leave them out!

Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs

In bread machine, add all ingredients. Program machine for dough setting – press start and come back in an hour and half or so. Take dough out of bread machine, punch down and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. While dough is resting, prepare filling:

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine all filling ingredients, cutting in butter till crumbly.

Roll the dough into a 12 inch square. Sprinkle filling over dough square; top with pecans. Roll up jelly roll style; pinch edges to seal. Slice roll into 12 one-inch pieces. Arrange dough slices in a greased 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Cover dough loosely with clear plastic wrap, leaving room for rolls to rise. Refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours. Uncover. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes (or until nearly doubled in size – it sometimes takes longer for mine to finish raising). (or, for immediate baking, don’t chill dough but let rise in a warm place until nearly double, about 45 minutes). Bake in 375 F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. If necessary to prevent overbrowning, cover rolls loosely with aluminum foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Remove rolls from overn. Cool for 1 minute. Invert onto wire rack. Cool slightly. Invert again onto serving platter and drizzle with Powdered Sugar Glaze: Stir together 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp corn syrup, 1/2 tsp vanilla and enough half and half or light cream (or milk) to make of drizzling consistency.

Serve warm and make new friends.

So yesterday morning I brought the refrigerated pan of cinnamon rolls into work, let the rolls raise, and then baked them in the lunchroom of my building. Mmmm. Love that smell of baking bread, especially when cinnamon is included. And I kind of like how it seems to drive a lot of people kind of crazy – smelling bread baking but not knowing what’s going on.

When they were ready I let my department (of sorts) know they were ready, and some of the quality assurance folks and engineers sat down with me to enjoy them. So nice to hear how much they love them. And almost even funnier to notice the Director of Information Services poking into the lunchroom multiple times, kind of hovering around. But I didn’t invite him to join us. Am I mean or what???

I’m not quite sure…. I like sharing. I like baking. But I also like to choose my “guests”.

All readers of my blog – this invitation goes out to you. Be my guest and join me for some fresh from the oven baked goods. Please!

A walk down the red carpet

You’re a Superstar!  That’s what the invitation read.   The company I work for ended it’s fiscal year recently, and it was a successful year financially.  Which is why, I guess, our raises this year will be very small, as they were set to match what the average raise has been in our industry in this tough financial recessionary year.  (I really have to suppose that if the overall industry had huge raises, but we’d done poorly financially, we still would have gotten small raises.  Always find a way to work things to the company’s advantage.  oh well).   But, overlook all that, as all the corporate employees got invited to a special lunch.  The invitation clearly told us so.    Come to the Selah Civic Center and celebrate!   So we showed up.  And there really was a red carpet to walk down to enter the room.  And very entertaining posters from various movies, but with our president and vice presidents faces taking the place of the movie stars.  Tree Top’s CEO as Clint Eastwood, the VP of field services as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line”, the VP of sales and marketing starring in Braveheart, the VP of operations in Transformers.  Etc. etc.

But I thought they said “we” were the superstars, the average employees?   Where were our photos on movie posters?   I guess I misinterpreted that part.  But “what the hey”.  It’s a catered lunch.  That should provide some memorable treats.  So we all formed a long line, wondering just what we would be served.  And most of us were quite surprised to find it was —  Hot Dogs!   Wait.  Did I get something wrong here?  A big celebratory catered luncheon, and hot dogs (or chili dogs, if you added the available chili) for the main course?   With little bags of potato chips?

Yup!   I hope that the executive committee from Tree Top isn’t reading this blog.  No, I take that back.  I hope they do.   It just didn’t leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings.   Can we try again next year?

Back to work!

Fill an Empty Bowl

Empty Bowls. I first learned about this grassroots effort to end hunger through my sister-in-law. She has been working quietly and steadily to help with their Milwaukee event.

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What a great idea. Artists making ceramic bowls, chefs and bakers filling them with all sorts of delicious soups and breads, and community members giving from their pocketbooks to help local organizations that fight hunger while enjoying a warm, satisfying meal and taking home a piece of art. I looked online and hoped to find a local event for where I live. The closest I could find is in Seattle.  I had hoped to find something closer.   Hmm… who should I be networking with to start something like this locally?

I’m a winner!

What a great feeling.  I arrived home from vacation and discovered in the mail a package from Backpacker magazine. I get the magazine courtesy of Sierra Trading Post. It kind of bothers me that I am such a good customer that I get these things. But, I do find I enjoy the magazine. They have a monthly feature called Eye in the Sky, where they publish a photo of a place taken from space, and give some clues to help the reader figure out where the photo was taken. It’s a contest, and a few months ago I spent a little time figuring out where the fascinating looking photo was taken and submitted my entry. I, along with I am sure many other people with correct entries, were lucky enough to be randomly chosen to receive a lightweight plastic (BPA free plastic, I might add!) water bottle. I was delighted. The featured site was Gooseneck State Park in Southern Utah.

Winning the water bottle was fun.  But now I’ve found one more place I want to visit.  Add it to all the National Parks I drooled over in the Ken Burns shows last week, and I’ll be traveling the rest of my life.

Here’s the photo for the November contest.  Any guesses?

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Midwestern Cuisine

….Not Mideastern but Midwestern,   As in, the Midwest of the United States.  Wisconsin and Minnesota, specifically.

Land of supper clubs and Friday night fish fries.  We just got back from a trip to the Midwest.

We drove from central Washington to Whitefish, Montana where we boarded the Amtrak train.  It wasn’t crowded….  Ha, ha to airline passengers crammed together shoulder to shoulder.  We had most of the train car to ourselves.

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When we arrived in Minneapolis, it seemed that the Coen brothers were busy with movie duties at the Walker museum.  However, Carrie’s cat, Sailboat, tried her best to give us a warm Minneapolis welcome.

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Her brother, Roland Barth, did a good job hiding from us.   I think the cats already realized where they had moved and were doing a fine job of preparing for a chilly winter.

Minneapolis has a very nice Farmer’s Market that we visited.  I hadn’t realized just how busy the University of Minnesota has been breeding new apples.  We tried some, and bought a bag of ones I’d never heard of before.  The flowers were pretty also.

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Dave was determined to eat walleye and had a successful trip.  He had a walleye fish sandwich at the Tin Fish alongside Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis and then a walleye dinner in Wausau (prepared from frozen fillets caught in Canadian waters).  I noticed that a bar near Carrie’s even had “walleye fingers” on the appetizer menu, but we didn’t end up  ordering them.

Jeff was good about bringing home fresh squeaky cheese curds from Mullins cheese factory near Wausau.  What else could you want??  I gobbled them down.  I did notice on the menu at a burger place we went out to in Minneapolis that they were serving poutine (a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy).   No thank you.  I really didn’t want to return home with any extra weight, and I am sure that menu item would have tipped me over.