Colorado


Great American Bird Count

We spent the morning participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies at Barr Lake. We saw so many friends — western meadowlarks, Canada geese 🇨🇦, white crowned sparrows, American goldfinches, house finches, American robins, an unidentified hawk, a downy woodpecker, and two bald eagles 🦅 🦅, among others.

The Great Backyard Bird Count goes until Monday and you can participate! Get more information and sign up here. It’s fun and easy and it helps researchers learn about how birds are doing.


FETA ON FLEEK

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We went camping this weekend, which is cool in the sense that camping is totally cool when you realize that you’re just sitting there under a Mexican yoga blanket with a min pin or two chilling because chilling is the only option that’s really available to you at the moment, which is great when you’re a busy adult who always has shit like laundry or cleaning up around the house or reading the preeminent text on the trivium as it relates to homeschooling (more on that soon) or doing squats or something else productive that you always end up doing instead of chilling, but not as cool when you realize that camping is kind of hard and three dogs are impossible to maneuver and always want to get their leashes tangled up and you totally can’t sleep while camping no matter what and you pretend you don’t care and stay up all night in the light of the inflatable solar lantern you wisely packed reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World on your Kindle but ugh fish-worshipping underground people who eat decaying flesh kind of creep you out when it’s just you alone awake in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere and you wait for panic to descend on your brain but it doesn’t and then you move through the ins and outs of the next day like a zombie.

But the one thing you can do while camping, no matter what, is make really awesome food. We’ve been doing this thing with feta for as long as we’ve been camping, since I first heard about it from Oprah of all people. I’ve finally perfected it and it’s the best thing in the world to do while camping because camping requires, if nothing else, vegan marshmallows and something really delicious and special that you eat only when you’re camping.

CAMPING FETA

Here’s what you do. Before you go camping (either the night before or the day of — it doesn’t matter), take a small jar. Fill that jar with freshly cut oregano from your garden if you can; otherwise use whatever fresh oregano you can find. Take some scissors and cut the oregano into little pieces. Add the following: a few very thin slices of red onion; three or four thinly sliced garlic cloves; a few sun-dried tomatoes, either sliced or whole, whatever you’re into; some pine nuts; freshly ground black pepper; red pepper flakes; and enough olive oil to just about cover everything. Close the jar and refrigerate. Transfer to your cooler along with a block of feta. When you’re at your campsite preparing dinner, place the block of feta on a largish piece of foil shaped into a bowl-like shape around the feta. Spoon the mixture, which will be slightly solidified as a result of being refrigerated, which is super great because that means oil won’t spill everywhere, over the feta. Wrap the foil around the feta and seal as best you can with the intention of keeping the oil inside. Wrap this in another largish piece of foil and seal as well as you can. Take the foil package and place it in or on your campfire for a while, maybe a little longer than you think, turning occasionally, until the feta is melty and the flavors have melded into something insanely delicious. Serve with some delicious crusty bread — it doesn’t matter what kind, really. We had this over cranberry walnut bread and it was great even though that sounds kind of weird. Put any leftover feta in the jar and allow to cool before putting it back in the cooler to save for later.

Enjoy, and remember that camping in reality is never as perfect as it is in your imagination. <3


Let’s go on a hike.

On Friday, Ben and I went on our annual drop-Soren-off-at-school-and-go-hiking date. We hiked the Herman Gulch trail, which is an out-and-back trail that ends at Herman Lake. This hike couldn’t have been nicer, seriously. It’s just hard enough to be a good hike but not so hard as to be annoying, and it’s rocky in parts but not overly rocky. Plus it’s dog-friendly and free.

From Denver, take 70 west to exit 218. Turn right and then immediately turn right again and you’re at the trailhead (which is the only thing at exit 218). There’s lots of parking and your usual stinky claustrophobic vault toilets.

I agree with everyone on the internet who says the trail is 3.5 miles to the lake. It took us about 1:50 to get up and 1:40 to get down, including stops for snacks and poncho application or removal (it rained for about half of our hike down, which isn’t my favorite because tree roots and rocks get slippery when wet).

If you’re looking for a super-awesome day hike near Denver, I highly recommend this trail. It might be my favorite hike we’ve done so far. Note: Bring a sweatshirt! It gets cold up there.

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Lake

Herman Lake

Herman Lake

Rottweiler

Herman Lake

Herman  Lake

Herman Lake

Herman Gulch trail

Herman Gulch trail

More info:


Camping Food

We’re planning a very short (one night) camping trip (tent, no amenities or fancy shit like potable water, electricity, or plumbing) and I’ve been thinking about what we should eat. It shouldn’t be much — just a snack, dinner, and breakfast. Maybe dessert. We have some stale vegan marshmallows so we could make s’mores, but s’mores are always better in theory than they are in reality.

You’d be amazed by how much time I can spend thinking about two meals to have while camping. The thing is, I like having something to look forward to, however small, and I like having a little project to plan. So let’s roll with it.

For a snack, do-it-yourself faux Jiffy pop, or “campfire popcorn satchels,” which sounds much more awesome. (Instructions here.)

Photo: David Tsay/Real Simple

For dinner, I’m not sure. I’d love to do grilled pizza, which we’ve made at home with good results (and I love this guy’s instructions), but Ben (who, to be fair, does most of the cooking and pretty much all of the grilling) was all, slow your roll homegirl, let’s just do veggie burgers and maybe corn or something. That sounds reasonable.

For a side dish, if there’s room for a side dish, we’ll have campfire baked feta, because holy crap can you imagine anything more delicious? (Instructions here.) Campfire brie, maybe with nuts or some kind of fruit? Is that possible? (Yes.)

Photo: Travis Rathbone

Oh, as you may know, I’m a nacho person. I love the idea of fire-roasted nachos, but I know we’re getting into way-too-much-food territory. We’ll save that one for an evening at home with the fire pit in the yard one day when you can use a fire pit in your yard in Denver.

And of course there will be beer.

For breakfast, I want to go all out and have camping pancakes. This recipe for 5 Spot Banana Pancakes sounds awesome — we can mix the dry ingredients together before we go (including powdered egg replacer instead of an egg) and then add milk and butter (which I hope we’ll have room for in one of our coolers, what with all the beer), a tiny bit of water (for the egg replacer), and bananas in the morning and slap these puppies on the old frying pan we don’t mind using on a grill or over a campfire (which, fortunately, are currently allowed where we’re going — Colorado has had lots of fire restrictions this year).

Photo: James Carrier

Also coffee — grind the beans at home, heat water in a teapot over the grill/campfire, and use the French press.

I haven’t been camping since I was a kid and back then we didn’t cook at the campsite, but holy crap I’m so excited about this. It’s going to be awesome.


Swamp Coolers

Or evaporative coolers if you want to be correct and less, um, swampy.

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We live in a 124-year-old house that does not have central air conditioning. In the past, we made do with one or two old window-unit air conditioners, but for how much it cost to run those things, they didn’t do a very good job of keeping our drafty house cool.

So on a 90+ degree day a few weeks ago, we bought and installed an evaporative cooler (we got this one). All I can really say about it is that it’s the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Sorry if it sounds like it is. I’m in love with an appliance.) (Also if you want to learn more about evaporative coolers, check out the Wikipedia page.)

Within an hour, the swamp cooler (Ben and I both independently determined that he should be called “Bob,” which is weird and annoying and I promise we are not in the habit of naming household items) cooled the temperature in our living room/dining room from 81 degrees to 70 degrees. We left Bob (sorry) running all night and woke up to a 60-degree living room (brrrrr).

Unlike our old air conditioners, Bob cools the whole house. The trick is — and this seems weird — to leave doors and windows open in the areas you want to cool. Generally, we leave our back door and bedroom window open, which helps to distribute the cool air throughout the house.

Another awesome thing — in Colorado, our electric company (Xcel) offers rebates when you buy an evaporative cooler (more info. here). We’ll be getting $250. When you add that to what we’ll save in energy costs this summer (running a swamp cooler is way cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running old, inefficient air conditioners), Bob will have almost paid for himself (sorry, that’s just weird but now I can’t stop) by the end of summer.

If you’re not familiar with evaporative coolers, there’s one thing you should know. They smell when they’re running, at least for a while. At first, the smell was really strong and bothered me. Since then, it has mellowed and now it’s either gone or I’m used to it and don’t notice it. According to Ben, the smell comes from the cardboard filter, which is made from aspen trees. So it’s nothing chemical/unhealthy/creepy — it’s just a little different.

At least now we’re ready for this shit, which, as I am wont to say, WTF.

yeeeeeesh