Saturday, December 28, 2013

Things That Don't Go Together (or do they?)

I first heard the word "fusion" only a year ago, in regards to combining food elements from completely different cultures and styles into some chimera of a comestible. Maybe it's the sort of thing people have been doing before, but maybe only by accident. "Whoa! We were going to have tacos tonight, but all I have in the meat drawer is italian sausage! And soy sauce! And tzatziki! Maybe a little fenugreek will tie it all together...

When I was younger, everybody had definite ideas about what went together, and what did not. I remember the horror of even thinking that you would wear anything pink in the vicinity of anything red. They were like matter and anti-matter. If you were wearing a pink dress and tied a red apron on, the world would end. Or everyone would look at you and whisper, which might have been the same thing. The same thing went with wearing plaid and stripes. Or stripes and polka-dots. Or polka-dots and plaid. You get the picture.

What I didn't realize at the time was that it was not an absolute truth that certain things didn't go together. It was only the current culture and ideas, and the fashion and food industry that told us what matched and what didn't.

One time I went to my Grandma's house wearing a pretty blouse that was a mix of blues and greens, rich and saturated in color. She could hardly stand to look at it and told me that she was used to those two colors not going together. I remember thinking to myself, maybe back in the old days, NOTHING went with anything else! Hmm! That was about the time my world was rocked when my mom came home with a dress from the mall (sidewalk sale, of course) that had been sewn, ON PURPOSE, with red and with pink polyester double-knit material. Times were a'changing.

When I consider two surprising ingredients that pop up in the same food item, chocolate bars and chile come to mind. Sweet, rich, creamy chocolate candy and spicy, mexican chiles? It doesn't sound nice, not when we are used to dessert ingredients like caramel, raisins, nuts, marshmallow and toffee riding along with the chocolate. But it does go together, in a strange exotic way. How adventurous and clever! you think. What imagination! Until you remember that the Aztecs originally paired chocolate with chiles, and then the Europeans took it and made something totally different with it that we are familiar with today.

Speaking of chocolate, what is this thing with dressing it with salt? Big salt crystals. Or shaking enough salt in the cocoa so you can taste it? The first time it was interesting. The second time was, well, enough. I guess the problem for me is that the difference between just enough salt to be a nice little savory note, and too much is very slim for me.

When we go wine tasting, often a dark chocolate chip is set before me when I'm about to try a rich dark cabernet, or perhaps a port. I used to oblige. Eat it and then nod, yes, dark chocolate does go with this. Yes! I have finally found the perfect drink to go with my dark chocolate M&Ms! No longer do I have to be content with washing them down with milk, or, heaven forbid, hot coffee! A sip of port, an M&M, a sip of port, an M&M! Hmmm, Nah! Forget the candy, give me a thick medium rare T-bone beefsteak to go with my cab. I bet they would sell a lot more wine if they set a platter of prime rib on the counter.

When it comes to jewelry, I'm partial to gold, or rather gold-colored gold. Silver is nice too, and affordable. I never could think of why they made "white gold." Who would know it was gold if it wasn't GOLD? Why not just use silver? Or an alloy? I met one woman who liked white gold so much, she had some perfectly good pieces plated with white gold. She was complaining about some spots where the white was wearing off to show the gold-gold underneath. But then I met my husband, who liked white better than gold gold. And worse than that, he liked the look of the two mixed in one piece of jewelry. That just doesn't work for me, though I do like the look of Black Hills Gold, IF they don't put silver color into the mix!

I like to think that some day I'll be creative and put a few food items together that no one has thought of doing yet, like some one did with spicy, tangy Buffalo wings and Blue Cheese, and become famous. But people are more adventurous now, and it seems like most things have been tried. But you never know. Everytime someone pronounces that everything has been invented, a new dimension of invention is at the edge of the horizen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kale chips!

Hi - this is the sometimes-seen-daugher of the food adventurer, doing a guest post today!  I've had some requests for the kale chip recipe I've been experimenting, so here it is!

When was the last time YOU ate an entire bundle of kale in one sitting?

Yeah, me either.....until I discovered home made kale chips!!!!

It took me a couple tries to perfect my recipe.  There's a couple of pitfalls that the recipes on the the internet didn't bother mentioning, so the point of this post is NOT to show pretty pictures of kale and the resulting chips, but to help you make delicious kale chips on the first batch, instead of the third. 

My advice is to perfect the basic recipe and then move on to variations.

The recipe is really simple.

Step one: have in your possession a clump of kale
- I shop at Winco since I am broke, poor, grad student who has to convince her non-vegetable eating boyfriend to buy kale.  So, this recipe uses the amount of kale that is twisty-tied together and sold at Winco.  Maybe eight leaves or so?  Enough that when I tear the leaves off of the tough stems it mostly fills my huge glass mixing bowl and is a *little* too much to spread single layer over my full size cookie sheet.

Step two: tear the leaves off the incredibly tough (and bitter stems).  Or not.
- The first recipe I used said to tear leaves into potato chip sized pieces.  DO NOT DO THIS.  The size of your leaves is the first PITFALL. What happens when you roast kale is that it shrinks DRAMATICALLY. And for some reason, the smaller the pieces, the more oily and salty they taste.  The kale that comes prechopped in a bag IS TOO SMALL. Trust me.  You will be disappointing.  Tearing the leaves off the stems, leaving them in as big of pieces as possible seems to produce perfectly sized chips on the other side of the roasting process. What about roasting whole leaves? I've seen several recipes suggest this.  I haven't tried it, but I'm skeptical for a couple of reasons.  After roasting the leaves are very brittle and shatter with handling.  The result of tearing out the stems produces bit size chips after roasting.  Whole leaves would require several bites to eat, and might result in crumbs of kale everywhere.  Also, because there is more moisture in the stems, it might require the leaves to be roasted longer in order to dry the stems, which might result in the leaves becoming over roasted.  The last reason I'm hesitant to try whole leaves is how well I can coat with my flavorings and oil.  The chunks of leaves toss in a bowl nicely.  Whole leaves might be a little more difficult to toss and coat evenly. Try it both ways and see what you prefer.

Step three: Toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons oil
- I've been using olive oil.  Conceivably coconut oil would work - but this time of the year mine is solid at room temperature and I'm too lazy to heat it up.  I toss the kale in a big bowl after drizzling with the oil. DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH OIL. This is pitfall number 2.  It's incredibly easy to over oil the kale - it won't look like there's much oil on the fresh greens, but post roasting you will be SHOCKED.  The leaves shrink, the oil consolidates into a smaller space.  Think about it this way.  This recipe makes 1-2 servings of kale chips.  I find that 1-2 tablespoons of oil on a big bowl of popcorn is about right.  1-2 tablespoons of oil in any recipe is about my max for a single serving of something or it gets too oily.  So trust me here and MEASURE the oil and do NOT add another squirt "just because".

Step four: spread on a cookie sheet
Single layer - use a second sheet if necessary.  Most of the time, one "bunch" of kale is a full cookie sheet, or just over one cookie sheet.

Step five: sprinkle with salt
Error on the side of UNDER salting.  This is pitfall number 3. One recipe I tried suggested 1/2 tsp of salt to be tossed with the kale during the oiling step.  MISTAKE.  Had to throw away the batch because it was inedible. LIGHTLY sprinkle the cookie sheet kale with salt.  You can always add more later.  If I had to estimate the salt, it would be 1/4 tsp or so for an entire batch.  The end result is PLENTY salty for me :)

Step 6: Bake in a 275 degree oven until crispy and dried. Usually 15-20 min.  
Check half way through and separate overlapping leaves about half way through.

Step 7: remove and store
I usually end up eating the chips the next day for some reason.  I've stored in a bowl on the counter, or in a paper lunch sack and both were great - I live in a low humidity area (central CA) and the leaves stayed perfectly crispy the next day.

Here's the problem with the basic recipe.  I'm a super taster.  I'm very very sensitive to bitter flavors.  These chips have a WONDERFUL and ADDICTING mouth feel to them.  But at the tail end of the chew, right before the swallow when the chip has disinegrated onto my tongue and is coating it... I get a flash of bitterness that I find unpleasant. So, I knew I wanted to experiment with some variations that might help hide that flash of bitter.

Here's my favorite so far:

Bacon Maple Glazed Kale Chips

- Fry 2 pieces of bacon in a skillet.  Remove strips, save grease.  See the comment above about Winco and my poor-ness - my cheap thick bacon yeilds about 1 tablespoon of grease per slice.
- chop bacon into little pieces and toss with the kale that was prepared (stems removed etc) like the previous recipe.
- Toss with 2 tablespoons of bacon grease (replaces the olive oil)
- Toss with 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup
- Spread on a cookie sheet
- I do NOT add salt - I find that the bacon provides plenty.
- bake as above.

I found that I needed to bake it longer - the maple syrup puts more moisture on the kale and has to reduce down to get the same level of "crunch".  The first time I made this recipe I panicked at the end of cooking because the leaves still seemed really damp and wet at the end of cooking....but the leaves were on the verge of being over cooked. I went ahead and removed it from the oven and put the chips in the bowl, and realized the "wetness" was just because of the hot melted sugar - as the chips cooled, so did the sugar in the maple syrup.  The leaves/chips were already crisped, and as the syrup cooled it dried nicely too - and the chips ended up perfect :). Not wet or sticky at all, just slightly sweet, not too greasy.

Other variations that are on my list to try are:
- cinnamon sugar
- Ranch
- honey mustard
- tahini
- salt and viinegar

I think you could do anything with these chips that you would do with popcorn - dill flavor etc. :)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Edible Food-Like Products

We get so used to thinking that the familiar goodies we pop into our mouths are really food, just because they have flavor and fill us up, that we forget-- they are not food. I like the term I heard once, "Edible Food-like products. I ran into one of those the other day, and it jumped into my grocery bag. Or it might have not, I dont remember much about the event. I only have a foggy impression of eating a few samples from a dish at the check out counter at World Market, and then I was walking out the door with the bag of Churro Nuggets in my sack. I vaguely remember a half off sticker on the bag, which might have helped.

After I crunched down on one of those, well, crunch things, I swear I could literally feel dopamine trickling over the pleasure centers of my brain. The lady before me had spilled about a cup of them on the sale ads beside the sample dish. It's only polite to take one or two from a dish of samples, but the ones on the newspaper were fair game. I felt like a dog wolfing up the salami someone spilled from their plate, trying to get it all before someone cleaned it up. I felt like snarling, "Slow down! Give me some time!" to the clerk who was holding out her hand for my money. That was probably the point I threw the bag of Churro Nuggets out for her to ring up for me.

Can I describe them? Sort of like caramel corn, sort of like Cheetos. Sort of like that fried cinnamon flavor of churros. And about the size of the end of my thumb. And what is in these golden bites? One of the descriptions printed in a red exploding star says, 100% puffed corn. I'm surprised the food police don't make them use a black Sharpie on that. The other red star, beside the ribbon that says "World Famous" says, intriguingly, "secret recipe." The secret must be in the cooking of them (fry, dip in cinnamon sugar, fry again?) because the ingredient list is directly below.

Sugar, corn, corn syrup, canola oil, molasses.

And then the plethora of chemicals, etc, that make up the other 2%.

Salt, margarine, (which has its own ingredient list a mile long) soy lecithin, soybean oil, propylene glycol, natural butter flavor (which means it is unnatural or they wouldn't have felt like they had to say that) natural maple flavor (ditto) caramel color (which sounds ok only because of the word "caramel") cinnamon powder, natural and artificial flavor (someday do some research into the world of flavorings) and beta carotene.

Eating these things is the closest I have felt to the way a smoker must feel about his cigs. I hate them! I must have another! I should throw what's left away. But then I pull out "just one," and it's over. The only good thing about them, I think, is that they go great with a banana.

As a comparison, I have photographed a package of a "food" snack beside the EFLP. (Edible food-like product) I like Corn Nuts. They are crunchy and bite-sized. I like to suck the salt off one, softening it in my mouth, nibbling the little kernel out, scraping what's left with my teeth, and then finishing it off. Then I might eat another one. A bag might last me awhile. Unless it has spicy fake cheese flavor on it. Then might eat more of them. But I would NEVER scrape them off the newspapers on the check out counter gobbling them up before I got kicked down to the bagging end of the line.

As for the ingredient list, it is: corn, corn oil, and salt. And when I look at them, I can see what they used to be in real life. That's kind of nice.

And no exploding red stars.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Presto! A Shower!

Maybe not extremely interesting a post for me being gone so long, but quite exciting for me. The house we have came with one shower, and one tub. The tub looked like a good start for making it into a shower also, but I wanted to do it quick and I expensively, and not have to get inside any walls looking for the back door to the tub fixtures.

I researched and discovered that I could replace my tub nozzle, which screwed off, with one that had an outlet for a hand held device. After that, we just had to mount a holder for the hand held wand up on the wall behind the shower.

I looked for some panels that I liked but just couldn't find what I wanted at a price I wanted to pay. Plus, just thinking about the effort to put them up nicely made me tired. I knew that I would be the only regular user, so I could afford to have a system that needn't hold up to hard useage. The wall was covered with wallpaper, vinyl coated, like most modern wallpapers are now. But it was applied in an odd way. To mimic the look of stone, pieces were torn and then applied like collage. I thought that if I could come up with some sort of heavy, clear, waterproof product, I could paint it on and that would work. I hunted back through my past life and remembered how we made pictures in 8th grade art class using Mod Podge. And I knew it was still available.

When I looked in the arts and crafts store, I found they had an outdoor version. I knew that would be the most waterproof of all, so I bought a jar and some wide craft brushes. It was stiffer and gookier that I had anticipated, a lot like dried-out glue, but it went on ok. I needed exactly 2 bottles of it to put on two coat.

I let it dry for a day, and it worked! I just gently towel it dry after use it, to keep any soap scum or water deposited from building up. Since the shower wand is so downward direct, not that much water gets up on the wall anyway. One of the pictures shows the shiny edge that marks the beginning of the shower area.

You can see the edge of the curved rod we installed.

I Love it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Amazing Discovery!

Civil Engineer Creates  Amazing Labor-Saving Idea!

(Special Advertising Section)

Housewives everywhere have been quietly following this new and innovative trend, and now

MIRACLE IDEA! Say goodbye to tedious hours of housework spent on rug cleaning! Long-use HEPA filters were a good idea in their time, for saving money over disposable bags and clearing the dust from the air, but as housewives and housekeepers quickly realized, it was TEDIOUS to clean them! Dumping the dirt, knocking out the dust, rinsing off the foam sleeves... There HAD to be a BETTER WAY!

Now, Dr. Cork "Clean-it" Faubel has announced his new Breakthrough Incredible MIRACLE Labor-saving idea!

Dr. Cork explains his IDEA:
"I needed to vacuum, and was confused about the operation of the machine. It did not resemble any of the sharp manly power tools I'm used to handling with one hand tied behind my back and my eyes shut! But I really needed to use the device, and so, with one hand behind my back and my eyes shut, I positioned it, turned it on and began to move it around."

Dr. Cork continues:
"Something didn't quite look right as I operated it, but I didn't quite realize the stroke of serendipity I'd created until I read my wife's instructions on how to install the cup and filter system. At the time, she was still using the time-sucking 'filter cleaning, cup dumping' system. And then I realized, I DON'T HAVE TO CLEAN OUT THE FILTER! I'd instantly gained at least 15 minutes in my day. 

More from Dr. Cork:
"I thought about that FREE fifteen minutes I now had. I could drink a bottle of GINGER-ALE while putting my feet up! I could check FACEBOOK! I could read my COMICS! I could eat a bowl of TORTILLA CHIPS while checking my news feed! In fact I was so excited that I used up the time just by thinking about what I could do with it. But that's ok, because now I know that I can use my MIRACLE Labor-Saving FANTASTIC idea any time I want, gaining a FREE fifteen minutes with EACH USE!!!

SCIENTISTS have taken note. They have asked Dr. Cork, WHERE, exactly, does the dirt and pet hair GO after using this LABOR-SAVING idea? Dr. Cork's answer? He shrugs:
"I don't know. All I know is that the dirt isn't where I didn't want it a minute ago.'

Dr. Cork elaborates:
"Some folks have compared this operation to what you'd get with a snowblower, and I can see that, though I haven't had that experience myself. Again, just like with a snowblower, you have cleared the area in question, which is a fully-qualified YES for an endorsement on this WONDERFUL idea!"

HOW can you benefit from this GROUNDBREAKING idea? For complete instructions, just send ONLY .99 cents (plus $9.99 S&H)  to Dr. Cork, in care of this blog.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Caribou Lake Trail Backpacking Trip, Pt. 3

Rain during the night on a backpacking trip is usually noticed first by the drumming noise on the tent fly. "Whaaa?" groggily you come awake and then when you realize what it is, you have the "Oh Bummer!" moment. 

What did I leave out to get soaked or messed up? (sigh) But not tonight! No, my first thought was that no reasonable bear would be out roaming around looking for helpless backpackers to maul in the rain. And I knew that great minds thought alike when my tentmate, Loreleigh, said the same thing to me the next morning.

It seemed to me like it drizzled and showered all night long, but my pack was in a garbage bag and under the fly in the vestibule. My wonderful REI tent was dry inside, and my food was safely in odor-lock sacks in a dry-bag hanging from a low branch a hundred feet or so away. 

I rolled my padded bulk out of the sleeping bag and slid into my camp crocs. I didn't care if my socks got wet because I had a pair of dry ones, and this was our last day on the trail. I picked up the pair of little Hot Hands-type hand warmers I had thrown in the corner of the tent during the night. They were still a little warm. These were a perfect example of why you should NEVER go to sleep with them in your socks against your bare feet. I had them in my curled up hands as I dozed off, but they became HOT! Very hot. I could hardly handle them. I was afraid they would melt the nylon floor of my tent. I have had them barely get above ambient temperature in the past, but these were astounding.

I shed a couple of layers, pulled on my raincoat and stepped out to survey our camp. Everything looked undisturbed. I could say that it was a bit of a disappointment after all the preparations the night before, but I WON'T! I was glad and relieved. (OK, just a wee bit disappointed that there were no paw prints or scrapes to write about.)

Coffee was first on my agenda. I lowered my bag and pulled out my Via packet. After a quick little set-up, my butane-fired water was boiling and I was pouring and drinking my wake-up beverage. The others straggled out of the tents, looking around and also noticing no bear sign. We congratulated ourselves, especially on the fact that we hadn't done all those bear safety things on the trip for nothing!

I was stirring boiling water into my cup of herbed mashed potato flakes when Melinda gamely hauled out her armload of tinfoil and her Fancy Feast can and bottle of alcohol. We found a dryish, flatish rock sort of protected by any breezes. 

I gave my piece of windscreen tinfoil to Loreleigh for her stove so she would stop using my Crazy Creek chair for a windscreen. 

Not easy to hold a big stainless steel pot on top of a 2" cat food can punched full of holes and full of flaming invisible alcohol with one hand, and wave a fold-up chair a few inches away in the other hand.

I laid my stove and lighter nearby, casually remarked that there was still a little fuel left (I didn't want to insult anyone by suggesting that they should give up their systems) and again enjoyed the show with my meal.

Now one thing to realize is that Melinda counted out every fraction of an ounce for this trip. She measured exactly the weight of fuel that she calculated would be needed, about 2/3 of a plastic water bottle. As her water approached an almost near simmer, the flame went out. Too much extra fuel was used to fight the low temps and light breeze. One quick blast of my Brunton, and she had boiling water for coffee and breakfast.

In spite of the drawbacks, the Fancy Feast stoves are actually pretty clever and easy to use. In an emergency, they could warm up or cook your food for you. They are pretty lightweight and disposable. But I think a option that has been overlooked is experimenting with high octane grain alcohols instead of denatured alcohol. Just for emergencies, you know.

It did take us about 25 minutes longer to pack up in the rain than we had planned on. It was nice though, to just cram the wet stuff in, since we'd be unloading it soon. We stepped out a 9:25 am. It was Monday, Memorial Day. 

I was pretty surprised that no one had camped in the meadow last night, and no one seemed to be out on the trail at the same time we were. We saw no one the whole way down.

The clouds looked just like smoke from a fire! Coming into the burnt forest, we were unsure of just where that burned tree was blocking the trail. I wasn't looking forward to going around it, but hoping that the moist earth would be easier to climb on than the loose fluff of the other day. Finally, when we got to the granite side of the mountain, we had to realize that while we were gone, they must have drug it off the trail. It was definitely a "stock-stopper." But there were plenty of other downed trees and branches to get over.

It drizzled off and on all the rest of the way. The hood on my raincoat went up, and then down. Up and then down. 

Time for a quick self-portrait. I look a little startled and worse for wear!

It is a wonderful raincoat. REI brand and made of that lightweight breatheable material. It also has zippered vents under the arms to help with sweatiness.

More water was flowing across the granite face of the mountain and running in streams down the trail and the cut steps. It was beautiful and clear and set off the black flecked white granite in a beautiful way.

 I loved the look and sound of the run off.

Caribou Meadow in the rain. No lunch stop today.

The best thing about day 3? Downhill, all the way! Yay! I'd been looking forward to this ever since it had been uphill all the way. The last obstacle was the Salmon River to ford. It did seem a little higher than before, but still below the knees. Loreleigh and I didn't want to soak our hiking boots, so we changed into our crocs.

Icy cold, and a little swift, but not too bad, as I didn't fall in.

The last uphill slog to the parking area at the trailhead, and there was our driver, waiting for us. Even though at first he acted like he didn't see us coming so he could finish the chapter on his audiobook, we we were glad to see him. 12:25 pm, just 25 minutes off our scheduled plans!

We passed a celebratory beer, Deschutes Red Chair, and drove down to Weaverville for Subway sandwiches. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Caribou Lakes Trail Backpacking Trip 2013, Pt. 2

My backpacking journal for day 2 of our Caribou Lakes hike begins differently than usual. I’m a very chronologically oriented person and find peace and contentment in ordering things by number, by size, by day and time. But this entry begins late that evening.

“Brown’s Meadow. Huddled in our tents a little after 9 pm. We saw our first bears while finishing our dinner in the meadow. …We made our plans and reassured each other the best we could…”

But let’s back up to that morning. We’d had some discussions about our schedule. Because Loreleigh had a time schedule to keep, we needed to arrive back at the trailhead at noon. Our driver was to meet us for pick-up at that time. When we considered how long it took us to get to the lakes, basically all day long, we knew it would be difficult and no fun to dash down the trail at break of day and skip lunch! Another factor was the snowed-in condition of the trails. Originally, we had intended to take day hikes in the area on day 2, but we saw now that we were limited in that.

Our new plan was to take a leisurely breakfast and look around these lakes, hike a little bit, come back to camp and break it down, and then pack out around noon. Our goal for the night was now to camp at Brown’s Meadow, almost halfway. I had been looking forward to not having to pitch camp more than once, but it wasn’t that big a deal with my wonderful REI Half-Dome 2 person tent. It almost feels like you just have to throw the parts down on the ground and snap your fingers and…ZOOP! It’s all ready to go.

It had showered during the night, and our tents were wet (but not inside!), but we counted on the morning sun to dry them off.

Our bear bags and the canister were unmolested, and I felt like a pro by now, pulling it down and getting breakfast out. 

I had decided that I did not want to wash any pans or utensils, so my meals were freeze-dried-add-water types. 

Today was eggs with bacon and a cup of Starbucks Via Christmas blend, left over from the holidays.

Snowslide Lake is really a lovely little lake, a carved little rock bowl, a cirque with one practically vertical rock face side. We guessed that is why it is named that, because the snow and ice must slide down to float on the lake.

 There were several rafts of snowy ice out on the lake, whereas Lower Caribou had none. Melt runoff was trickling and gushing down in half a dozen or more rivulets in the lake water. 

Further down the end of the lake, on our morning walk, we saw the outlet, a little stream pouring through a gash in the land bridge dividing the two small lakes. It looked like a giant back yard fountain, the way you put several bowls above and below each other, one pouring into the other as the water flows over the rims.

Because of the snow covering sections of the path, we had a hard time knowing just where we were really going, even though the land was not totally tree covered. We thought we might be going across the land bridge to see Lower Caribou, but finally we had to admit that the trail was headed up to the big Caribou Lake, and it was impossibly snowed in, and steep. 

 So we meandered back and found another trail that involved some boulder hopping and sheets of granite.

Even with all the snow, the rain during the night and the unsettled sky, it wasn't too cold.

There came a point where we were pretty unsure of just where we were. No real danger, since the area was limited in size where we could be. We scrambled up a snow bank and found ourselves right in our own camp. 

And just about time to pack up, too.

I had known that all that downhill descending to the lakes the previous day meant that it would be uphill ascending the next day, and sure enough, that’s the way it worked out. When I wasn’t huffing and puffing, I pondered on whether there were cool backpacking trips that involved long level walks…

We paused at the top of the lake trail, which was the intersection of the old and new trails. Melinda still had a crazy idea that we should try the old trail, but it didn’t look or sound like what I intended to do.

Melinda: “So, what about trying the Old Trail for a ways, seeing if it’s less snow covered than the New Trail?”

Me: “No.”

Melinda: “Seriously?”

Me: “That’s right. I’m not doing the Old Trail.”

Melinda: “Oh. OK.”

I think she accepted it because I’m usually pretty easy going for what people want to do, and I was adamant about this one.

We looked closer at the trail marker.

“Old Caribou Trail” (underneath someone’s carving, “IF YOUR A GOAT”)

We looked at it in silence for awhile.

Okaay! Let’s get going! And we struck off on the New Trail.

I know we were all dreading that snowfield that we would have to portage around and would have found a different way if we could. But perhaps the groups of hikers who had gone after us and before us this morning would have somehow tromped it and marked it better. We talked about whether we should take off our packs and drag them across the snow with our bear bag ropes.

We stopped for lunch on the rocky trail, taking our packs off and sitting and leaning on the granite boulders. 

I mixed up the rest of my Mountain House Chicken Salad with water. It’s nice because it only requires cold water and rehydrates almost instantly. It has a good flavor, though it looks pretty icky.

Back on with the packs and around the next corner… and there it was. Backpackers’ Bane, Melinda’s Fall-y, The Giant Slip ‘n Slide.

“I didn’t know it would be coming up so soon.” We all concurred. My plan had been to stop and have lunch in front of it, taking our time to look at it and make a good plan. But Loreleigh had called a lunch stop just a curve back, and we’d just got our packs back on and all adjusted.

Looking closer, we could see how maybe one other person had made it across the top, but the others had portaged around, even going around the tongue of snow we had crawled across the day before. 

So we picked out our route and began, leaving room in between us so we could help but not get in the other’s way.

There was rotten snow, rotten branches, air pockets, fluffy slippy soil, downed tree with sheets of bark coming off and some scrambling that required the hiking pole to dangle from the wrist and both hands to pull up on tree limbs and bushes. 

We were about two thirds across when another hiking couple arrived. They also pondered the situation briefly, then decided to portage. While we were carefully and laboriously managing the situation, poof! They were there right behind us. We crawled and pulled and helped each other up with our sticks, and then stood on the other side of the snowfield, happy and relieved it was not as bad as we’d dreaded. And, poof! The other hiking couple were there beside us. He handed me the lid from my insulated coffee cup. “Here, you lost this.” I made myself feel better by noticing how young they were and how long and lanky their legs were compared to our short little stubby legs. At least he had not taken Melinda’s advice, when I was stalled on the slope, to “push up on my butt.”

On the last significant snowfield on the trail, we were crossing, trying not to be cocky at our previous successes, since that will get you every time. 

Loreleigh was picking her way across slowly, trying not to slip, when a large hairy animal came bounding up from behind us. A futile cry of “Leave it! Leave it!” was followed by, “He’ll push you off the trail!” Not a good place to hear that. I froze. She froze. The big hairy animal was a big friendly dog, who was a “leaner.” Loreleigh planted herself as the dog wagged his tail and leaned on her.

“Nice Doggy, Good Doggy,” she said as she delicately dropped her free hand down on his head, trying not to stimulate him to any robust antics. The hiker came striding up behind us, calling his dog. Once we had secure footing, we chatted for a bit. The dog was a very nice, good doggy, just a bit enthusiastic. The man was a day hiker, very familiar with the area, who sounded like he had just bounded over all the trails, his dog pulling him up when he needed her to calm down and get a little tired. He told us that the Old Caribou Trail was completely covered with snow at the higher elevations and it was almost impossible to follow the trail, it was so hidden. Eek. That would have been an unpleasant situation!

And then, there was Brown’s Meadow, and only 2:30 pm. 

We picked a site as far back from the trail as we could, assuming that other campers would be coming in and setting up in the closer, more “camp-like” looking areas. After setting up camp, we strolled around and chatted, we set up our chairs and snacked, basking in the sunlight. I tore my Christianity Today magazine in half for Melinda. When she got tired of that, Loreleigh cut her trashy romance novel in half for her. We hung our bear bags.

On one side, Brown’s Meadow is bordered by a steep rock face that is very high. At the base rests jagged granite boulders that, over time, have fallen down.

 Our camp was set up against some trees that had grown up in these boulders. I did have the uneasy thought that if we felt an earthquake, we should abandon our camp without a second to spare.

At dinner time, even though I’d snacked away my hunger, I decided to join the other two in eating. Having lots of calories is one way to keep warm, always my biggest concern, and I did have a half bag of Mountain House Chicken a la King to get used up. Once again I got my food ready and prepared to sit in front of the show and watch re-runs of the alcohol stove show. Afterwards we poured out the last of the Zinfandel and nibbled on Loreleigh’s brownies.

Melinda: “There’s some bears.”

I didn’t quite get it at first because the tone was so level. But Loreleigh did.

Loreleigh: “Sh*t. Oh sh*t, sh*t.”

I turned, and sure enough on the grassy hillside leading down to the meadow were 2 bears standing there looking at us.

Us all: “What should we do?”

Well, my first instinct was to chug the wine, stuff the brownie in my mouth, gather up every bit of cooking and seating and reading gear in my arms that took three trips to bring down, run to the bear bags and shove it in and then go cower in my tent.

Melinda: “Bang the pots and pans!”

I banged my plastic spork against my little anodized pot, Tip! Tip! Tip! Melinda banged aluminum pot against her Fancy Feast stove. Crunch! Crunch! And Loreleigh banged her great big stainless steel pot and lid together. BLANG! BLANG! CLANG! And there was just a cloud of dust where the bears had been.

We agreed that they were probably juveniles and were already nervous about us, so were easily scared away. But the mood was over. We chugged our wine and brownies, scooped up our stuff and attended to our bear bags. Melinda decided hers was too low. I decided mine was too close to camp. Loreleigh scouted out a better place for the bear canister. As Melinda put it, “you don’t want it to roll right into camp if a bear starts messing with it!”

All this time our other hiking companion, the only one that came with sharp teeth and claws, had not noticed what all the commotion was about. OK, so the wind was blowing away from us, and OK, she’s a little deaf. But we needed to make sure she was on board about our safety here! So Melinda gave Tess a stern talking to about letting us know if a bear got close.

Melinda decided we needed a plan so that we would calmly know what to do if bears came close later that night.

We agreed that if we heard bears messing around by our bear bags that we would all get our pots that we planned on placing near our pillows and stick our heads out of the tent and bang them and yell. But Melinda wasn’t through.

Melinda: So what is the plan if they come on in to our camp?

Me: My plan is to curl up in my tent in a fetal position and shut my eyes.

Melinda: I do not plan on being a bear burrito. I think we need to run out of our tents to an agreed on meeting place, and I was thinking we could retreat over those rocks up against the mountainside.

I considered how that would work. First I would paw around for my glasses and try to get out of my mummy bag that I can hardly turn around in. Then I’d try to bend in the middle and sit up with my undershirt, shirt, down vest and polartech jacket all conspiring to keep me laid out straight. One hand would grab headlamp and multipurpose tool, the other would unzip the tent while I’m trying to shove my feet into my camp crocs. The other option was to dash out without doing all these things, and I couldn’t see how that would work.

Me: Ok.

Melinda: Hopefully, that’s not where their dens are.

We didn’t say anything more about dens.

As the evening wound down, I began to feel more confident. I’d seen bears, my big phobia, on a backpacking trip, and I wasn’t eaten! I wasn’t mauled or even traumatized! They do scare off easily! We were all reading at our tents in the fading light when I heard Melinda.

Melinda: “There’s a bear.”

Loreleigh: “Oh Sh*t. Sh*t.”

This bear was a different bear. This bear was a big glossy black hunk of a bear. He reminded me of a big gorilla knuckled down on his powerful hairy arms. And he was closer. We could see him bobbing his head as he watched us. (Ok, so he was still across the meadow, but bears can run fast!) When it started to look like he might be getting curious, we confidently banged our instruments. Tip! Tip! Crunch, Crunch! BLANG BLANG!

Uh oh. He nonchalantly leaned his head over, as if saying, What? Do I hear some pitiful little noises?

We ramped it up. Melinda was urging Tess to help us by barking ferociously. Tess finally got the picture.

Tess: “Oooooee, oooee, yodel ay ee oo!

Us: “Stop! You sound like a wounded animal!”

Since my pan wasn’t making a good contribution to the din, I decided to see what my emergency whistle would do.

Me with whistle: “weeee…eeee…”

Them: “Stop! You sound like a wounded animal!”

We tried to show Tess how a ferocious dog would bark. However, Melinda and Loreleigh have this thing where their voices get real high when they get excited.
They sounded like frantic little Chihuahuas yipping.

Me: “Stop! You sound like prey animals!”

We ended up just hopping around the tents banging pots, barking and howling, yelling and yodeling.

Finally he got tired of listening to us and sauntered away into the trees. But we didn’t want him to saunter. We wanted him to dash away in fear.

Melinda: “Ok, so, the plan. Are we still going to make noise if we hear bears messing around by our bear bags?”

Me: “No, we are going to hide in our tents, let them have it all and count it good.”

We ran around preparing our camp. We dug up every scrap of possible bear bait we had on us. Loreleigh the Bear Nazi waved her bear canister in our faces like a crazed deacon taking up the offering. She confiscated my flossers. She ferreted out a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a chapstick. We peed around the perimeter of our camp, and then we retreated inside our tents.

The longer I lay there without hearing any strange noises, the more relaxed I became, until, amazingly, I fell asleep. And shortly afterward, when I woke to the sound of steady rain on the tent fly, I felt happy. Surely no self-respecting bear would be out running around creating havoc in the rain!