Tuesday, July 18, 2017


There are certain times each year that feel especially bittersweet; the day after Christmas, when a kid's birthday party has wrapped up and you survey a house strewn with used paper plates, crumpled wrapping paper and discarded toys. But no day draws conflicting emotions quite like the first day of school - I think it will forever remain King. I spend a lot of early summer trying not to think of that looming square on the calendar and in those first days of freedom it's easy to do. The summer stretches out before us full of anticipation and excitement and we sit around asking, "What should we do this summer?" then feel slightly punchy and giddy when the answer is, "We can do anything! We have the WHOLE SUMMER!" It feels as if time is standing still, just for us, so we can soak up long days of alternating between activity and laziness. We fall into a rhythm, we forget that we ever lived differently. We talk about last year's teachers and assignments as if we were visiting home decades later. We tick things off our little bucket list, we plan days with friends we miss and we put on a big show of getting up each morning and packing up for one of our few camps..."It's so early! I can't believe I'll have to be up even earlier for this when school starts!" "I forgot how to pack a lunch."

For my part, I make an ambitious list of home projects and personal improvements I want to tackle each summer. Some come to fruition, some fall by the wayside. I alternate between jumping in whole heartedly with the boys and their friends and feeling angsty and overwhelmed that I'm suddenly on the hook to be cruise director, camp counselor, play mate and fully functioning adult. And then, at some point, I'll be walking up the street or pulling into the driveway and I'll notice that one of our many sunflowers has opened. We'll ooh and ahh over the first bloom and then, just as quickly as my excitement appeared, it will be overtaken by a sudden panic as I remember how long ago it felt that we'd noticed the slender stalks emerging from the ground, the times we'd casually commented on how numerous the sunflowers were this year, the moments when I'd furrowed my brow and felt slightly annoyed that when our yard was at its mangiest and most unkept the sunflowers did little to help keep our lawn from looking like an overgrown forest.

Once this feeling hits I suddenly spend a significant amount of time beating it back. Potential land mines of comparison and FOMO are all around and I regret our decision to not take a big vacation. I worry that I didn't plan enough, that they'll head back to school with too little to bolster them for a year of schedules and confinement. I'll berate myself for the nights that I spent inside, folding laundry and watching bad tv instead of sitting on the back patio drinking wine and listening to records under the lights. And then, to solidify my worst fear, that summer is winding down and I will be forced to part with my boys and all the chaos they bring, the emails start to roll in. First from the school, then from teachers. Soccer coaches, always a particularly overeager bunch, will already have held team meetings and started bombarding us with dates and motivational texts. I'll sit anxiously and consider the reality of homeschooling. I'll feverishly try to book in that one last camping trip or quick getaway on Orbitz. Basically, I'll feel like a failure, like I frittered away an entire summer. And then, I'll look through my pictures. I'm quickly reminded of the first water balloon fight of summer, of nights spent out driving with the radio up loud and the windows down, of coming around the corner in the backyard to find a guilty looking toddler and dog crouched over the plate of watermelon they'd stolen, rinds scattered near their feet. We'll hit our favorite public pool and I'll feel grateful that we've managed to make it at least once a week so far this summer and as I'm mumbling about how messy the house is while scooping up armloads of laundry the boys will casually mention that they are headed out on their bikes and ask when they should be back. The water at the creek near our house will start to drop enough for kayaking and tubing and we'll savor the lessened crowds, allowing us a couple morning hours with our favorite spots all to ourselves each day. We'll start the annual debate on whether an 8pm dip in the rushing water does or does not qualify as a shower. I'll rally. I always do. I'll kick the can down the road for another month or so, reminding myself that summer isn't really over until the novelty of a garden bed overrun with squash has worn off and the first crickets start chirping.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pineapple Pork

I've been craving Chinese food, something a little rich and smoky with a bit of sweetness and it just wouldn't be summer if we didn't manage to cram fruit into every meal of the day. 

Creating and making a meal feels like such an indulgence to me right now; when we are in the school year I am typically in school, too. So although we have weekly standards, they rarely fall into the "fun, festive, culturally expansive" categories and instead land with a thud in the categories no one is too proud to advertise. Like..."leftover scramble night" or "hash night". I'm planning on doing some writing about meal planning, which I find stressful and a bit deceiving but right now I can say that when I'm busy, it shows up on the plate. Frustrating for me as I'm someone who loves to cook and sit down to a meal made with some feeling behind it. So when things do slow down a little, I often have moments of, "Hey! I'm not doing anything...I could cook. Actual food!" Tonight was one of those nights and so, instead of asking around to see if anyone had something left in their lunch they could eat for dinner (it happened once in a moment of desperation) I made something I knew would at least get marks for being colorful and hot. Luckily, it totally filled my take-out cravings. 

One piece of advice for this recipe, and cooking in general - If you use the pork tenderloin as suggested, don't be afraid to ask your butcher to prep it for you by removing the silvery skin you'll notice on the cut. Taking it off makes a big difference!! I've found that most people working behind the counter are happy to take an extra step for you. If they don't have pork tenderloin or that's not in your budget at the moment, ask what they have that would work for a stir-fry. I've learned so much (and gotten a lot of free/discounted stuff) over the years just by being conversational and expressing an interest when I'm putting in my order. 

Tonight we had this with rice and baby bok choy and white snap peas (who knew) from our CSA. Since the pork is really flavorful, just add about 1/2 cup chicken stock to a small, shallow pan, put it on medium high then add your baby bok choy and spread a few handfuls of snap peas around. Cover with a lid and steam for 5 minutes. Perfection! 


1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp coconut oil or cooking oil of your choice
1 onion, cut into large dice
1 green or red pepper, also cut into large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 stalks thin, crisp, very green celery (sorry, this is not negotiable. clean out the vegetable drawer another day)
2 cups pineapple chunks, juice reserved
1 lb pork tenderloin or other tender cut, chopped into large bite-sized pieces

Pineapple Sauce

1/4 cup coconut aminos
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (rice vinegar would work, too)
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (cornstarch would also be fine)

Sesame seeds and green onions for garnish

First, prepare the pork. Mix the sea salt, paprika, cayenne pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl and once the pork is cut up, open the paper it came wrapped in and spread it out on the counter. Arrange the pork in a single layer, sprinkle it with the rub then work it in work your hands. Once it's all mixed evenly, loosely wrap the paper and set it aside while you prepare the other ingredients (effective AND saves a dish). After all the vegetables are chopped, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or wok. Once hot, adjust heat to medium high and add pork, tossing occasionally and working it around the pan to get a nice sear on all the pieces. Remove the pork from the pan with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil to the pan quickly followed by the onions, peppers and celery. Reduce heat slightly and cook until the onions are translucent and you're just starting to see a few dark spots here and there. Add the garlic and ginger and continue stirring for 2-4 minutes. 

While this cooks, combine the coconut aminos, vinegar, pineapple juice and arrowroot in a small pyrex. Add the pork back to the pan and pour the sauce over. Stir to mix it all together then let it cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 7 minutes. Add the pineapple chunks, stir, then remove from heat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions to serve (or definitely do not if you have someone who will run from the table screaming at the sight of a bright green onion). Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Staple: Peach and Corn Salad

Surviving the end of the school year left me pretty burnt out on potlucks. It seemed like every meeting, every occasion that required more than 2 people to come together was suddenly an opportunity to force everyone to come up with an entree, salad or dessert that could feed a crowd and check a few boxes on the dietary restrictions. A few are just fine, but ours were in excess. Thankfully, summer comes and offers a reprieve from all sorts of obligatory chores and errands, when nights with friends mean potlucks in their purest form; a collection of standard favorites and newcomers alike, when you know you can try out an ambitious new recipe or show up with beer and the standard potluck copout - chips and salsa and no one will mind.

It's useful for occasions like this to have a few recipes that you know can be tinkered with to fit in nicely with the other choices and show off some of the best parts of the season. This salad has become that for us over the years. Freshly shucked raw corn and sweet juicy peaches are transformed into a versatile salad/topping that seems to work, regardless of what they're paired with. Although basil is a standard addition, we like it with a pinch of cumin and chili powder mixed into the vinaigrette and topped with avocado for taco night, or thrown together with some penne for an easy summer picnic lunch.


  • 5 ears chilled corn, shucked and well cleaned
  • 3 peaches that are just ripe or not quite ripe, pitted and chopped into slightly smaller than dice-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup avocado or mild olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • quite a bit of fresh ground black pepper, around 1/2 tsp
  • handful of basil, roughly chopped

Find a large, shallow bowl and use a sharp paring knife to cut down the cob, letting the kernels fall into the bowl. Work your way around the cob, getting off as many kernels as possible. Add the chopped peaches to the corn and gently mix. Combine the oil, champagne vinegar and pepper whisking very well. Drizzle over the salad, combining carefully. Just before serving, add the chopped basil. Serve chilled. Stores well in the fridge for a few days. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Camping on Avalanche Creek

There is a common misconception that if you live in Colorado you spend every free minute in the mountains - that winters are for skiing and summers are for camping and hiking. That all who live here flee to the woods for solace and restoration. Driving west on I-70 a couple weeks ago I was reminded that this image of all Coloradans is not totally true; my hand gripping the handle above my door as we flew through windy mountain roads, slightly nauseous and reminding myself how ridiculous it is to feel so much anxiety about something that is intended to be the deepest form of relaxation. I try to enjoy the views, to appreciate the spontaneous waterfalls making their way down the rocks lining the road but I have to admit that the mountains are not for everyone, that I have to go through a lot of pep-talking and mental reassurance to get to the point of appreciation. In the end, it's I rarely regret it.

After choosing a comedically bad campground in Redstone for our Father's Day trip, we were lucky enough to find a very out of the way spot in the Avalanche Campground, along Avalanche Creek which feeds into the Crystal River. About 25 miles south of Carbondale, CO, this part of the state is often overlooked by those on their way to the flashier locations of Vail and Aspen. Glenwood Springs boasts a very large hot springs pool and for years, we were devoted swimmers, shrugging off the crowds and the high price of admission because a night of floating under the stars, the faint scent of sulphur wafting in, was always worth it. Then a few years ago we took a trip to Avalanche Ranch, a good hour or so out of Glenwood and were instantly hooked. The pools are small but the property, run by the family who lives on the ranch, keeps a tight rein on the number of guests that are allowed to come each day in addition to the on-site guests. Cabins, adorable covered wagons, apple orchards, plum trees heavy with fruit, baby lambs each spring and summer and an on-site pond stocked with huge (and battle tested trout) and canoes and paddle boats make it the kind of place you can go for a stay and never leave the property.

Watching the boys unpack gear and jump into setting up the tent, I realized that sometimes, giving someone their happy place can be nearly as satisfying as visiting my own. No waves crashing, no hours spent strolling on the beach or finding treasures in the sand but still, we spent a few relaxing days racing bikes, visiting the hot springs and hiking on some of the great trails you can access through the campground.

If you're out that way, the historic town of Marble is an incredible site to behold; the closer you get the more you'll notice massive chunks of marble plunked down in the river (when the water is low). Even the most humble trailer home in Marble will often boast a couple sculpted marble statues in their yard. We'd only been at an off time but a friend told us about the best barbecue place, Slow Groovin' BBQ. Insane! All local meats, everything done on-site with a selection of their own house label sauces (all delicious but I'm a die-hard tangy fan).

I'm not sure if it's a pro or a con but once you hit a certain point on Highway 133 you can kiss all cell coverage goodbye. The town of Redstone has zero interest in adding cell towers and whatever you do, don't ask the staff at the general store about it! Trust me, even the most nonchalant questioning will get a very terse response. A great chance to unplug and expedite the relaxation process but as we headed home I couldn't help but groan at the sudden pings and alerts that filled the car. Just another reason to plan our next trip.

If you go:

Carbondale, CO
Bonfire Coffee has an excellent menu and makes an exceptional cup of coffee.
Dandelion Market is the local food co-op with a good selection and very finicky hours.
The Goat Restaurant and Bar - I cannot sing the praises of their staff and service enough. My favorite combo, a good steak salad and fries, is not to be missed here.
Village Smithy is the local's place for a huge breakfast selection. A great cabin/diner feel, it's worth the wait.
Rhumba Girl Liquors - make sure to stop into this town favorite before you hop on 133.
Avalanche Ranch - formerly a well-kept secret, those days are long gone. Book very far in advance, even for a pool visit. For off-site swimmers, times are 9-1 or 1-5. We are partial to Cabin 1 for a family (right next to the pools, good light) but don't be afraid to try one of the houses in Redstone they consider part of the property. A different experience but a good one.

Marble, CO
Slow Groovin' BBQ - be daring or just go with the standard platters but don't miss out on some of the appetizers. The twisted potatoes will have you fighting over the basket.

Crystal, CO
I've not been but I've heard the 4 wheel drive road in is so worth it. The view will instantly be familiar to those who've seen their share of postcard racks.

Avalanche Campground - clean bathrooms but no water, these are advertised as tent sites only, however, we did have a neighbor that made it in just fine with their trailer. Of course, if you get stuck, you're that dummy. A decent amount of traffic through the campground as hikers come through for the remote trails, but it dies off early and everyone we encountered was quiet and friendly (except for the neighbor who bore a shocking resemblance to a young Charles Manson).