Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cabin, Hiking, and Recipe Planning

We took a few days off to go hiking a few weeks back, and I was quite proud of my recipe planning.  I looked up all the spices for each recipe, at what point they got added to the recipe (to keep those separate), and put them in teeny tiny adorable tupperwares, which I then labeled.  I also measured out the olive oil we'd need and put that in a small jar.  Later, I'll get to all the critical items I forgot.  But for now - let's just admire the cabin.

Below is the cabin we stayed in.  Jon googled and googled until he found a dog friendly place with a fireplace AND a hot tub.  We adored that hot tub.  Perhaps a bit too much, more on that later.

View of cabin from front

On our very first day, we decided to take the short way on forest service roads to a hike.  At first there was occasional patches of snow, then more snow, then deeper snow, until we got totally stuck.   It took us a good 45 minutes of shoveling, dragging our boots across the snow like tiny snow plows, stomping it down with our feet, breaking up twigs and putting them in the path of the wheels, but eventually we made a three point turn on a one lane road in 5 inches of snow with a Dodge Neon.  And we are still married.  In fact, we didn't fight ONE BIT about that!  No, instead we fought over getting the last beans out of a can which were stuck to the bottom while preparing dinner.  Yes, that is what we fought about.  Pro marriage tip: feel free to drive up any narrow snowy mountain roads with a wildly inadequate vehicle.  But avoid westbrae chili beans, they stick to the bottom of the can.

Most of the hikes were on the snowy side, which is harder than normal hiking, because you slide around more on slopes, and it's a little more challenging to walk when your boots are sinking in with each footstep.  The dog agreed, even she walked in the existing bootprints!

One great thing about hiking in the snow was the place was deserted.  We saw no sign of anyone, except for the boot prints of some long gone hiker and many animal tracks (we are so not Teal'c*, we had no idea what made any of the tracks except for the deer and rabbit tracks).

Sarah & Leeta on High falls trail

Note the impending stream crossing, where I will winge and wobble and frantically grasp for Jon's hand.  It's really not a feminist moment.  I actually bought a balance board, which is a device you use to practice balance on, in response to my less than admirable behavior during stream crossings.

Another great bonus of hiking in early March: frozen waterfalls.

"Ice beard" frozen waterfall

These were plentiful on the Otter creek trail.  So were sketchy icy scary parts, and hand holding.  Jon was very accommodating.

Another hike, High Falls trail, had amazing views.  Here's a picture of a majestic, many-hued, stunning landscape that looks like utter crap in the photo.  I can't stress enough how this landscape could bring a tear of joy to your eye, make you believe in a higher power, and make a mental note to learn watercolor painting so you can return and capture it's true essence.  Yet once translated into pixels...well, you see what I mean.

High falls trail

Here's the kitchen, where we cooked like gangbusters:
Kitchen and gas fireplace / heater

Now, onto lessons learned.  One of the meals I'd planned was tacos.  We had recently purchased a bag of Beyond Meat's new burger crumbles, feisty flavor.  (Who was in the focus group for that name?)  Anyhow, I totally forgot to bring them, tacos.  I also planned a thai coconut vegetable curry...and forgot rice.  I'd planned to make biscuits but forgot ground flax seeds for the egg.  However, despite my screw ups, we actually still ended up having too much food somehow.

In a non-food related lesson, 7 hot tub trips in 4 days is one too many.  My skin became really raw and red and dry.  I had no lotion, but we did have warming massage oil, so I tried that instead.  Don't ever put warming massage oil on red irritated skin.  It's a bad, bad mistake that will result in an immediate desperate shower, which will hurt also.

Finally, hiking in the snow is awesome, and I totally want to do it again.  It's gorgeous, peaceful, relaxing, and it you have a dog, especially nice, because they love snow so much, and you get to watch them bound around happily.

*Sci-fi reference

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

24-Course vegan dinner at Rogue 24

Last night I had a 24 course dinner. It took about 4 hours. It was fancy. It was incredible. Here's how it went down. You can see the full size pics at

Before bringing out the food, we were seated right next to the open kitchen. We were the first people to arrive, so we had 9 people entirely working for us, which was pretty cool.

Courses 1-5:

Clockwise from right:
Compressed cucumber w/ lime & mini pickles, rice puff with carrot tops and carrot gel, fried beet tangle, celery root raw ravioli with sunflower seed "cream" and celery powder, and vegan mozzarella balls with tomato powder.

The balls were very good, they had an odd texture (almost like a donut hole on the outside) but great flavor. The ravioli were delicate and pleasant, the beet tangle was rich and crunchy and delicious, the rice puffs were tasty in a fun and odd way, and the cucumber was good but unsurprising.

Course 6:
Globe artichoke w/ Meyer lemon, eggplant puree,fermented garlic, dried kale and vegan parmesan.

This was an incredible dish, a flawlessly executed take on a classic combo (artichoke / lemon) with a few nice twists (the eggplant / fermented garlic / kale).

Course 7:
"Peas and carrots:" Fried thinly shaved carrots, carrot powder, carrot tops, peas, pea puree, and blood orange truffle gel.

This was a very creative reinterpretation of another classic pairing, I liked it (especially the texture of the fried carrots) but not my favorite.

Course 8:

Avocado cream w/ three seaweeds, lime, espelette, and chili powder.

The avocado cream was just amazing, and although I generally don't like the texture or flavor of seaweed, these had a relatively muted flavor and the avocado complemented them perfectly. This was probably the dish that most surprised me in terms of how much I liked it relative to what I was expecting.

Course 9:
Aerated cauliflower soup w/ seared cauliflower, almond "crouton", compressed granny smith apple, pumpkin seed, and pink peppercorn.

The texture of the soup and crumble were very strange and I found this dish a bit on the bizarre and jarring side. Out of the entire dish, I got one bite near the end that happened to include the right balance of all components and it was great. The chef suggested that I should play with my food more before eating other dishes to address this.

Course 10:
Vegan ricotta w/ roasted peppers, honeycrisp, honeycomb, and smoked applewood powder.

The chef had mistakenly listed the avocado dish twice, so he had to make this one up on the spot, but it was just incredible (one of my favorites). He used Tofutti ricotta as a base (which is usually gross), somehow overcame that, and the balance of the ricotta, chile, smoke, and honey was divine. The textural diversity of the crispy / crumbly / creamy / chewy components was another major plus. He asked when I made the reservation if I ate honey or not, and checked again before serving it.

Course 11:
 Alliums w/ New Zealand spinach

This was another favorite dish of mine despite being relatively simple. It was roasted shallots, onion crisps (super thin crispy flakes made from powdered onion), grilled spring onions, and charred onion powder, accompanies by small dollops of vegan creamed spinach.

Course 12:
Roasted salsify in ash with beach herbs

I'd never had salsify before, so it was hard to tell how much of the complex flavor was innate to the root and how much came from flavors he added. But this seemed like the simplest dish of the night: a roasted salted root with a nice light fresh herb. Tasty and interesting, but not amazing.

Course 13:
I forgot to photograph this one, but it was one of my favorites: sunchokes with roasted onion over a pine nut crumble (similar to a shortbread cookie or biscotti) with red watercress and sea grass.

Course 14:

 La ratte potato sphere with olive oil & tarragon

This was the only dish that was surprising enough to actually startle me. He told us to eat it in one bite, and in my mouth it "popped" in a way I wasn't expecting (it seems like the interior was pressurized). The flavor was good, but I couldn't totally get behind the texture which I found a bit gelatinous.

Course 15:
I can't quite recall what the crumble underneath the broccoli was, but it was an excellent combo. This was about the best broccoli I've ever had.

Course 16:
Buckwheat gnocchi w/ ginger-black miso broth, charred onion shoots, and date jam.

This was a magnificent dish. It felt relatively simple like comfort food, but again just perfectly executed. The broth was flavorful and somewhat sweet, the gnocchi had a lovely texture and gentle nutty flavor, and the jam and onion provided a nice counterpoint to the rest of the rich base flavors

Course 17:
Lightly seared squash w/ kumquat jelly and curry

This was another dish that surprised me with how well balanced it was. There was just a hint of char which faded into background notes when you ate it with the rest of the roasted squash and jelly. It didn't taste "burned" at all, and made me realize I need to step up my game when winter squash season hits next time!

Course 18:

Winter mushrooms w/ forest moss, "snow", and pine oil

This dish didn't really come together for me. The mushrooms were a bit on the bland and rubbery side, and while the other textures and flavors were interesting this was just OK to me overall.

Course 19:
Black lentils w/ roasted turnip and pear, carrots, etc.

I don't know what all of the flavors in this dish were, but it was another favorite. One of the big chunks shown is pear, the other is turnip. The lentils had a marvelous creamy texture and intensely rich and complex flavor I couldn't identify but really enjoyed.

Course 20:

Vermicelli with toasted grains (oats / farro) in toasted grain broth

The sweet potato / starch noodles had a good flavor, but I found the broth to be too salty and I didn't really like the flavor that much either. This was my least favorite dish, although it was tough to follow the black lentils.

Course 21:
Coconut-yuzu sorbet w coconut "snow," black sesame paste, and yuzu gel

I think the coconut "sorbet" (much thicker / firmer than sorbet usually is but I don't know what else to call it) also had yuzu (a kind of citrus) in it along with the side of yuzu gel. The coconut / yuzu / black sesame was a great flavor combo, and this was also a fun mix of textures.

Course 22:
Chocolate "rocks" filled with sorbet and chocolate mousse, w/ dark chocolate threads and strawberry balsamic reduction

One of the rocks had a strawberry balsamic sorbet, the other two had a very light and fluffy chocolate mousse. The reduction paired perfectly with the dark chocolate (~75-80% cacao). All of the desserts were excellent but this was my favorite.

Course 23:
Peanut butter "sandwich"

This was peanut sorbet served with thin peanut brittle, brown sugar crumble, and concord jam. It was very good, although I felt more emphasis was placed on texture as the flavors were relatively straightforward (just peanut / grape / brown sugar).

Course 24:
"Happy endings" aka "little things" or "small bites."

All wonderful, although the chocolate ones were a bit on the oily side so they quickly melted in my fingers. From bottom/right to top/left: jellied passion fruit, chocolate orange truffle, white chocolate w/ something I forget (but I loved it despite not usually liking white chocolate), complex crisp of huckleberry and blackberry, and chocolate peppermint meltaway. A delicious cap to a 24 course meal (this box counts as one course)!

I was surprised that in over a year of offering a vegan meal, only 7 people had actually ordered one (it does take a week's advance notice, but still).Overall, I would recommend Rogue 24 without hesitation to anyone. Of 24 dishes 10 really impressed and delighted me, 3 I didn't like much (but none were bad and I ate them all), and the other 11 were still very good. I would not go for the wine / beer pairing again (it cost almost as much as the food and was not nearly as enjoyable), and it's pricey enough ($125) that it's certainly not something I'd do often, but I certainly enjoyed the meal a lot more than a night at a decent hotel somewhere!