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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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Creamy Polenta with Fresh Leeks and Corn

Posted by gck Friday, September 9, 2011 0 comments

I’ve been cooking a lot again this summer, thanks to the weekly supply of veggies from my CSA. But I haven’t been all that great about posting about it because most of what I’ve been making has been really simple. For example, tonight, I fixed some Rice-a-Roni, but I added half a can of cannelloni beans and two shredded zucchinis. Actually looks like real food, but I can’t write a whole post about it.

About a week ago, I felt like doing something that was a little more involved than steaming vegetables or making a chopped salad. I’d eyed the summer issue of 30 Minute Suppers by Cook’s Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen after seeing it in an airport or something, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $8 for it. With 40% off at one of the Borders closing sales, though, I snapped it right up. I’m actually a terrible fit for America’s Test Kitchen because they go to all this effort to find the perfect recipe, and I never follow recipes exactly and these days I don’t even bother measuring most things. But whatever, I liked the pictures in this magazine.


It was also kind of dumb because most of the recipes in the magazine involved a lot of meat, and I’ve basically stopped cooking non-seafood meat at home. But when I saw the recipe for polenta with leeks and corn, I knew I had to make it. I love polenta. I love leeks. I LOVE corn. I even had leeks from my box. And if it were last year, I’d have corn, but for some reason it’s really late in the boxes this year.

My assessment? Yummy recipe! They called for both parmesan and mascarpone cheese and fresh corn, and I used only parmesan and corn from a can. I also substituted half and half and water instead of whole milk because that’s what I had on hand. And if I were to make this again, I’d do it all on the stove instead of microwaving. I don’t mind stirring, but I do mind being burned by the steam that comes out of a bowl that has been covered in the microwave for 10 minutes. Finally, the one thing about polenta is that it doesn’t taste as good once it has cooled because it solidifies.

Creamy Polenta with Fresh Leeks and Corn
serves 4

2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 can corn
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Whisk milk, water, cornmeal, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on hgih power until cornmeal is thick and creamy, 15 to 22 minutes, whisking cornmeal and replacing wrap halfway through cooking.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and corn and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Transfer half leek-corn mixture to bowl with basil. Cover to keep warm.

3. Stir microwaved polenta into saucepan with remaining leeks and corn. Whisk in Parmesan cheese. Simmer over medium heat until creamy and cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Divide polenta among individual bowls and top with reserved leek-corn mixture. Serve.

TR: Glasses Lake Backpack

Posted by gck Thursday, September 1, 2011 0 comments

Distance: ~13 miles
Elevation gain: ~3500 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

Last year on the last weekend of August, I managed to convince Mike to go on a backpacking trip, the first one either of us had done in awhile. There was a lot of new gear being tested out – tent, GPS, water filter, his backpack and sleeping bag. And we discovered that "fisherman’s trail" meant "blindly pushing through plants." This year, the last weekend of August happened to be the one for this year’s backpacking trip.

I reused some of my ideas from last year. Still had the packing list, and getting things together was much easier this time. For the destination, I used the same strategy: find a pretty wimpy day hike that can be extended to a backpacking trip ending in a short fisherman’s trail. The wimpy day hike part keeps things manageable – easier than many of the day hikes I do. The horrible part at the end keeps the crowds away. My opinion is that if I’m going to work that hard to slog my lazy body with a 35 lb pack up the mountain, I don’t want 8 other parties camped next to me.

IMG_9399  IMG_8896
left: Janus Lake
right: view of Glacier Peak from the PCT

I never managed to get my GPS to acquire satellites, so I don’t have tracks or official statistics for this hike, though I have someone else’s that go almost up to the the point where the trail descended into the lake. The easy trail is Smithbrook trail to the PCT to Janus Lake, a measly 6.5 mile hike, 1550 ft elevation gain (about half going in, half going out). When we first arrived at the trailhead, there were two groups of people there, with horses and llamas. They obviously knew each other, and not long afterwards, another car pulled in with a bunch of loud kids who joined the menagerie. My dreams of solitude were rapidly degenerating into a pile of horse manure… but reason took over and I knew that there was no way those people were going where we were. When Smithbrook joins the PCT, you can go two directions. The other direction is a short cut to Lake Valhalla, a hike that’s apparently very popular with children and llamas. So I am never camping there. Smithbrook is part of the Wenatchee National Forest and not the Alpine Lakes Wilderness so instead of permits, there’s a register to sign. Almost everyone who had signed went to Valhalla, some to Janus, and a few to destinations beyond.

IMG_9403  IMG_8881  IMG_9044
left: PCT trail marker
center: lupine on the trail
right: fisherman’s trail of death

The trail to Janus Lake is not very exciting. It's all in the woods, and it was only kind of interesting because there were still lots of wildflowers blooming and also a lot of horse poop to avoid (this mostly disappeared after the PCT junction). Janus Lake was also not very exciting. The lake was pretty murky and unspectacular, but the campsites looked nice. They even had a stock camp if you happened to bring your llamas. Didn’t see anyone there on the way in or way out, but the lake probably got a few campers over the weekend. Definitely less popular than Valhalla. We did see a few people heading in the opposite direction during the first few miles of the hike, including one solo backpacker who had come all the way down the PCT from Rainy Pass (117.5 miles, 26351 ft elevation gain – sound like fun?) who was able to confirm that our hike would be mostly snow free. There were a number of blowdowns on the PCT, nothing extremely difficult, though right at the trail intersection it’s enough to make you wonder where the trail is.

left: mosquito paradise
right: pretty ripples on Glasses Lake

After Janus, the hike picked up quickly, gaining 1200 ft or so. At the top of that, things started to get good. Finally, there’s a ridge walk, and the views are gorgeous. We got a great view of a huge mountain that confused us – it was definitely something to the north and we were thinking Baker, but when I got back and looked it up, it’s actually Glacier Peak. Mountain views are always way better in person than a point & shoot can capture... so basically, it was a really spectacular sight, especially on a cloudless, sunny day. We also started hitting a few snow patches here, some that made me unhappy because the length and positioning had me worried that my feet would slip and I’d slide down the snow and off a cliff. Really it just required being a little careful, but I think this hike would have been questionable a few weeks earlier.

Glasses Lake

The path going from the PCT down to Glasses Lake was pretty easy to find. Actually hiking the path down was quite a different story. I think I can say without question that it was the worst trail I’ve ever been on. Very steep, trying to keep feet on questionable foot holds while pushing through trees... it was pretty scary and tiring to go down. I don’t know if I would have been comfortable doing it if it had rained recently. It was at least easy to follow the "trail" – the path was clear in the wooded section (even if your vision wasn’t) and there were cairns through the boulders. Climbing up on the way out was difficult, but it seemed less dangerous, and poles helped immensely.

We saw another person almost right away, fishing around the nose of the "glasses." We stayed on our side of the glasses and looked for a campsite. The first area we found was kind of marshy but would have worked. Mike scouted around more and found three tents on the other side of the glasses and a suitable campsite for us on our side. I was a little disappointed that other people were there, but we didn’t see or hear much of them and they left the next morning. They had come from Heather Lake (which probably was a much easier hike but a further drive) and came to our side in the morning to see if the trail we’d taken down was better than theirs. Conclusion: they both suck. There was also a giant boulder that fell down the boulder field right next to our tent in the middle of the night that was REALLY loud. Scared the crap out of us and apparently they heard it, too. No one else came down to the lake for the rest of the weekend.

IMG_9361  IMG_9270
left: Glasses lake on the right, Heather Lake on the left
right: lakeside campsite

One thing we heard a lot of that weekend: the buzzing of swarms of mosquitoes. It was really bad, completely intolerable at times to the point where we would hide in the tent. Wasn’t this bad last year, but it was a lot colder at this time of year, too. The other thing we heard frequently was the loud “EEEEEP!” of the pika (eep-munk). These things are really cute, and unfortunately I never saw one during the day, but after dark I saw the reflection of my headlamp on two little eyes.

Finally, something observed by almost everyone who was out backpacking this past weekend -- the night sky was spectacular for both Friday and Saturday night, due to absence of clouds, moonlight, and light pollution. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many stars so clearly. With the mosquitoes pretty much gone when it got dark, we were able to lay on a lakeside boulder and enjoy the night – lake, trees, huge, unobscured sky. Saw the Milky Way and watched planes, satellites and some shooting stars.  Doesn’t get much better than that.