Pickled Pink.

I’ve made my first loaf of bread in my new kitchen – a nice half-rye loaf with a fermented starter – so I guess my house is truly a home. And now that bread is knocked off the list, I can get on with some other cooking experiments in earnest!

Right now, I have one housemate. His name is Seth. He’s moving out in a couple of weeks and then I’ll have a different housemate, but for now it’s me and Seth, and we get along great.

Because Seth is moving soon, he’s pretty busy. And because he’s going to Squamish, British Columbia later this summer, he’s climbing a lot to get in shape. For the last five days he’s been gone on a climbing trip, so I’ve had the house to myself. When he left, he urged me to eat the beets in the refrigerator and the insane amount of lettuce that his girlfriend’s roommate had given us as she tried to harvest her overflowing garden. I was also given the chance to pick up his CSA share, which turned out to be really fun. He has a small share, just four items, but the place had probably ten different kinds of produce to pick from, so I tried to pick what I thought Seth would like as well as a treat for me: rhubarb, which I’ll hopefully be making into a pie sometime soon.

The beets made me hesitate though. I love beets. I love love love them. Since I was very small, when it was unusual for people my age to like beets, I liked beets. I was ecstatic that I was being given the beets. But I also felt bad eating them all. I mean, they were nice beets, and they were Seth’s, and I don’t know him that well yet, so why should I just eat all his beets? The lettuce was different, because it would start to wilt and get slimy if I didn’t have a salad every night. But the beets…

So eventually, I decided to pickle them. That way, they would be incredibly delicious but we’d all be able to enjoy them.

Funny enough, I didn’t use to like pickled beets. I liked them cooked, warm and sweet. But when I got to college and started eating from the salad bar, I discovered that the pickled beets were a good addition to a salad and provided some much-needed color. When I got to Craftsbury, the beets in the salad bar were often pickled in the kitchen itself rather than coming from a food service can. My appreciation of pickled beets quadrupled. They could be really good, and weren’t just a semi-lame way to preserve a favorite vegetable.

I found this recipe in The Scandinavian Cookbook, a gorgeous book which was given to me for Christmas by a family member. Despite being a committed Scandophile, the only recipe I’d made so far was one for cardamom rolls (they were good!). The pickles are great, and easy to make. The recipe says to let them sit for a week before opening them up, but did I sneak a slice after three days? Yes. And was it pickly delicious? Yes. Perhaps the reason that I had previously disliked pickled beets was that they were one-dimensional; this recipe adds in pepper and anise, and gives them a much more interesting, and yummy, flavor.

Besides salads or just eating with a fork, pickled beets are great for other things as well. I made a quasi-smørrebrød with sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, and a fried egg on top of toasted rye bread. Highly recommended.

Pickled Beets

Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

7 or 8 medium-sized beets

salt

2 cups distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 star anise

1 tablespoon peppercorns or some freshly grated pepper

Start by peeling the beets, and then place them, whole or in halves, in a pot of salted water. The beets should be completely covered by the water. Boil until they are soft enough to eat, but not soft enough to be mushy. Next, make the pickling brine. Put the vinegar and sugars in a small saucepan and heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the anise and pepper and boil for a few minutes. Then remove from the burner and let the brine cool until the beets are done cooking. When they are, put them in a colander in the sink, run some cold water over them, and then, when they are cool enough to handle, cut into slices. You can experiment with what size the slices should be; I like them thin, but not too thin. You don’t want them to fall apart. As you cut the beets, put the slices in a pint-sized mason jar which has been sterilized. Once all the beets are in, pour the brine over the top. It should just fill the jar. Make sure the star anise is in there and if you ground the pepper, try to get it in there too. Put on the lid and let rest until you’re ready to enjoy your beets!

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I’m settled in and so are they.

By the time I finally post this it might be a moot point, but we have raccoons.

The second day I was here, I was sitting at the table with my laptop and glanced out the window just as a large raccoon strolled by on the little path around the house. She didn’t seem troubled and wasn’t moving fast. It was the middle of the day and she was just out on a walk beside the garden.

“Oh yeah,” said Seth, my housemate. “That’s Mom.”

It turned out that Mom had been living under the porch for quite some time and nobody was quite sure what to do about it. This was all particularly funny to me because as I drove across the country I had listened to a lot of NPR, including a story about the absolutely insane number of raccoons in Toronto. Here, as soon as I was living in a city (well, “city” compared to Toronto) I had my very own backyard raccoon.

Mom didn’t really bother Seth or the couple living in the yurt in our backyard, so nobody worried too much. Occasionally over the next few days I saw her wandering around. She must have been living off of other people’s garbage, because she left our compost alone. Hmmm.

Then Seth left to go on a climbing trip on Wednesday. The note he left behind, besides asking me to pick up the CSA share, said, “Mom is gone so watch out for the kids.”

What? Seth is gone and nobody else can really answer the question of what happened to Mom, but we guess that it means that she is no more.

In any case, I didn’t see Mom again and then today, suddenly, I saw the kids, or kits to be more precise. There were three of them peeking out from the hole in the porch floor, looking very hungry and sad. And they were so cute! I began to have very mixed feelings. I didn’t want to encourage any more raccoons to stay under our porch, but the thought of them just starving to death was pretty sad. Still, I wasn’t going to feed them or anything. I was in kind of a philosophical crisis about them. And they kept just kind of looking at me and being all cute.

So finally I talked to Elizabeth, the woman who lives in the yurt, and we commiserated about how we didn’t know what to do with te raccoons. She said that last year there had been a litter and she had called someone to trap them. The guy had said they had to kill all of the raccoons they trapped and the fee was $400. She asked if she could have the raccoons back afterwards, and there was a silence. You know, to make hats or something, she said. The man hung up.

Elizabeth wasn’t going to pay $400 to get rid of our raccoons, and neither was I. Luckily, a few hours later, our other neighbor showed up with a live trap and set it up. He’s going to take the kits across the river to a nice forest, where they will probably starve or be eaten, but at least we won’t have to watch them starve and can still imagine them being all cute, growing up, and raiding garbage cans over in Springfield.

Wishy Washy Mt Washington Weather.

There was a time not too long ago when I laughed in derision at peakbaggers. We all did, my friends and I: we were young, fit, motivated, and part of the finest college outing club in the world, of course.

What is a peakbagger, you might ask? Well, it is a hiker whose main goal is to summit a bunch of mountains – for example the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks, or all the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire, or all the 13,000-footers in Colorado – and are more driven by the desire to check things off the list than the actual challenge and experience.

While I don’t consider myself a peakbagger, I am, in my “old age”, beginning to understand why somebody might be. When you have a job and a grown-up life, it’s a little harder to get out the door sometimes to go on a run or a hike. There’s simply too many other things to do. Having goals helps with this, and once you’re out there, you’re always glad you left the house.

For example, when I was in Florida, I didn’t really enjoy running that much. There were some quiet neighborhoods but you had to cross large, busy roads, and the community wasn’t particularly pedestrian-friendly. I was often honked at, and not in a positive way. So to get myself to go running, I set a goal. When I returned to New England, I wanted to do a Presi Traverse. It was something I’d been thinking about for a couple of years, and now that I would be leaving for the west coast for an indefinite amount of time, it was now or never on the traverse.

There are a couple of ways to do a Presi Traverse and a few peaks which can be included or omitted, but I picked out a route, rented a Dartmouth Outing Club cabin in Randolph, NH, and then invited my friends to join me. We’d be hiking about 20 miles with approximately 20,000 feet of cumulative climbing, or so I’m told. Susan, Hannah and I mentally committed to waking up obscenely early on Thursday morning and hiking across the ridge all day. We made our pasta for dinner and then went to bed early in preparation for something that would surely make all three of us very, very sore all weekend.

And on Thursday we did wake up early, managed to get out the door, and parked at Crawford Notch. We headed up the Webster-Jackson Trail, still groggy but excited for what we thought was going to be an awesome day in the mountains. A traverse was something that we had all wanted to do – I wasn’t the only one who had spent a few years unsuccessfully trying to fit it into my training schedule. But I was perhaps the most excited, because in Florida, there hadn’t been any mountains. This was my glorious return, if only my body could deal with all that climbing.

Anyway, we got to the top of Mount Jackson, the first peak on our route, and suddenly the atmosphere changed from pleasant to difficult. It was extremely windy, windy enough to blow us slightly off course as we navigated over the summit. But it was still sunny, at least, and we had some good views…. in one direction. We looked toward Mount Washington and couldn’t see the summit. Huh.

We knew that if it was this windy on Jackson, Washington would be impossible. So much of the mountain is exposed, it’s not like you can just pop out of the trees and make a quick trip to the top. At this point, we more or less knew that our traverse was doomed. We still thought, however, that we might be able to take a lower route and stay in the trees- a sort of shoulder traverse, if you will.

When we got to the Mizpah Springs Hut, we consulted our map and didn’t see any way to stay below treeline on Washington without going way, way lower – something that didn’t seem worth it. And we saw that the forecasted winds were 55 to 75 miles per hour. Reluctantly, we agreed that we shouldn’t have any extended routes above treeline. At this point, it also started raining.

Not wanting to give up entirely, we pushed on over Mount Pierce and on up Mount Eisenhower. On Ike, things really got tough. The wind was gusting and fierce, and through the fog and clouds we couldn’t really see anything. In fact, the only way we could really tell that we were at the summit was the absolutely gigantic cairn we saw. This must be it, we decided, and snapped a quick photo.

Despite being cold and wet – our fingers turned red and white and swelled up in protest against the freezing conditions – we were pretty happy to have made it over three peaks. Still though, we were relieved when we started down the Edmands Path and into the trees. We kind of stopped to regroup. We could actually hear each other talk here! Up on Eisenhower, we had each been in our own little world, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I had been struggling to breathe in the cold wind, my asthma kicking in as it sometimes does when I climb through a severe temperature change. We hadn’t been a group, but rather three isolated hikers.

On the way down, we were back to chattering. By the time we got to the bottom, it was practically sunny, although when we looked up we still couldn’t see the ridge, was by now even more obscured by clouds and fog. It was 11 a.m. and we unexpectedly had half a day to waste. At least we had good company.

If I was a true peakbagger, I would have been dismayed not to check a half-dozen new mountains off my list. But that wasn’t why I was disappointed about abandoning our traverse. Mostly, I had wanted to spend those eight or nine or more hours in the mountains, looking out over my home state and drinking in the fresh, clean air. I had wanted to spend that time doing something difficult, making my body really earn its keep. I had wanted to spend it with my two friends, just as we had so many times before at Dartmouth and at Craftsbury.

But, the Presidentials will always be there, and we can always try again. We did have a great time and I still got to see my friends. I can’t complain too much.