14,000 Feet and Some Orange Ricotta Pancakes

We moved to Colorado about 8 months ago. This was around the time the uber-delicious Linger opened in Denver (yay!) and many of the mountain passes began to closed for the season. In October, or maybe it was November, we had set out to hike in the areas surrounding Mt. Evans. We soon discovered that the roads were already closed. Snow had accumulated at the higher elevations and the roads were considered unsafe by those in charge.
Mt. Evans is high. I'm talking over 14,000 feet high. I haven't been to such heights since hiking Cotopaxi in Ecuador about 7 years ago...and for those of you who know me, you might recall that hike didn't go very well. Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano and it reaches over 19,000 feet. Now I don't remember exactly where I was, but let's say that it was 16,000 feet. We were well above the tree-line, the air was thin, and I remember that the only sensation I had was to urinate (pardon me, but apparently this is very common). I felt really short of breath and wasn't sure if I could make the hike. In fact, I wasn't sure I was going to make it...period! I told my then boyfriend/now husband to go on without me...to "save himself." And indeed he did. He told me that he would come back and get me after he got to where we were supposed to meet the rest of our group. In the meantime I managed to crawl on all fours and I found my group. I was exhausted. The rest of the story isn't so important. Obviously I made it, but the scars of going up into the sky left their mark on my psyche. I was nervous about being that high again.
After a long winter closure, the gates to Mt. Evans reopened today (May 25th) at 12:00. We just had to go! Thinking like typical New Yorkers we were sure there was going to be a line of cars and weren't even certain we would get in. But there were no big lines, cars went in and out of the gate with ease, and we decided to take the boys on a walk through an alpine forest, right around the tree-line. (I suspect things get crowded on the weekend, but on opening-day things were easy as could be.)
The mountains were absolutely spectacular. Idaho Springs, the closest "city" to Mt. Evans, is only 45 minutes away from our house in Denver. Add another 20 minutes on winding roads with phenomenal views and you can get pretty remote pretty quickly. It's really amazing. As far as feeling nauseated or short-of-breath, the sensations were slight. I guess that is another benefit of living at altitude; I was already a bit acclimated.
Otis didn't seem to notice the altitude and Theo was just happy to be clapping his hands (his newest trick). We then continued on to Summit Lake and from there we got to the very top of Mt. Evans. Amazing. Spectacular. Sensational. And cold. Temperatures in Denver were around 80 degrees today. At Mt. Evans they were 20 something. Brrrr. And beautiful.
On the way down we saw a pair of mountain goats and a some yellow-bellied marmots (cute!). Otis had been on the lookout for mountain goats for about 1/2 hour, but by the time we spotted them he was sleeping soundly in the backseat...
Of course before you head out for high-altitude walks you need to eat a solid breakfast. I made these Orange-Ricotta Pancakes for the occasion. The recipe comes from The Breslin (in the Ace Hotel in NYC). I thought it was a really nice change from our standard buttermilk pancakes and my (relatively-new) favorite oatmeal pancakes. The syrup really added to the pancakes but, truth be told, the consistency was very un-syrupy. I'm not sure what went wrong, as I followed the instructions exactly. Perhaps it had something to do with the altitude. Never the less, they were delicious and a wonderful way to start out the day.
{Note: use a good, fresh ricotta for this recipe...or don't...but I think that makes a difference. I used a local cheese from LazEwe 2 Bar Goat Dairy in Colorado.
Orange Ricotta Pancakes (From The Breslin, by way of Food & Wine)
1 orange
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
RICOTTA TOPPING (I omitted this step, but will add it next time)
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine white cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
Vegetable oil, for frying
Toasted almond slices, for serving
Peel the zest from the orange in long strips and julienne. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch the zest for 30 seconds. Drain and repeat. In the saucepan, simmer the orange juice, sugar, water and blanched zest until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients. (This step is for the ricotta topping)
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda. In another large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg yolks and ricotta. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. In a large, clean stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold them into the batter.
In a large cast-iron skillet, heat a thin film of vegetable oil. Drop in 1/4-cup dollops of batter and cook over moderately high heat, 2 minutes per side, until golden and fluffy. Serve about 3 pancakes per person. Pass the orange syrup, ricotta topping and toasted almonds at the table.