Some of my fondest memories of childhood are those of the travels we did together as a family. There were trips overseas, an Amtrak ride from New York to Orlando, and a vacation whereby we drove down California's coastal Highway 1. But my favorite had to be the “Great Stepelman Family Road Trip of ’86.” We flew to Phoenix, rented a motor home, and my dad drove us around the Southwest for a few weeks. My brother and I had a blast discovering New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. It was really the first time I saw the beauty of our National Parks system and I knew one day I'd be back…(and here we are!).
Travel and exploration are things Otis and Theodore enjoy too, and we had every intention of heading south this fall. But after a failed Aspen weekend - immediately followed by a stellar Rocky Mountain excursion- Matt and I decided we should end our hiking season on a positive note. We took a moment to think about whether or not a trip to Gunnison's Black Canyon was a good idea, and determined that the lengthy car ride plus the strenuous hiking inside the canyon should be saved for next spring or early fall. The boys would be almost a year older by then and better equipped to deal with the trip...
On the weekend following my husband’s birthday, I gave him the gift I knew he really wanted: 5 days of solitude. Unlike me, an extrovert who craves only minimal alone time, Matt loves having time to himself and he found peace and quiet in Colorado's Black Canyons. I can't wait to see this canyon in person (it took about 2 million years for the river to shape the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America)…and who knows, maybe the trip to the canyon will become one of our children's fondest memories…
Here are Matt's photos...
A few weeks ago, my friend Jayme and I went to hear Ina Garten speak at the Paramount Theater in Denver. I loved listening to her talk about her transition from policy paper-pusher at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to food gourmand and business owner. I've always credited Ina as the person who got me inspired to cook unfussy seasonal dishes that are big on flavor, so it was interesting to hear how her recipes go from concept to print.
Anyway, this recipe for Salted Caramel Nuts comes from Ina's most recent cookbook "Make It Ahead"- which, if you couldn't guess, really works well with my current lifestyle.
A caveat for those of you making this snack at altitude: watch your caramel closely, as it boils faster at higher elevations (like Denver). I had to throw out the first batch before getting it right in the second go-round, so don't take your eyes off the stove!
Makes 8 cups
1 cup each whole roasted salted cashews, whole large pecan halves, whole unsalted almonds, and whole walnut halves (4 cups total)
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the nuts on a sheet pan, spread them out, and roast them for 7 minutes, until they become fragrant. Set aside to cool.
After the nuts are cooled, place the sugar and ¼ cup of water in a medium (10-inch) sauté pan and mix with a fork until all of the sugar is moistened. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar melts—from this point on, don’t stir the caramel, swirl the pan! Don’t worry—the mixture may look as though it’s crystallizing. Continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes a clear golden brown, swirling the pan constantly at the end. (Careful—the caramel is very hot!)
Off the heat, quickly add the vanilla (it will bubble up!) and swirl the pan to combine. Working quickly (the caramel will continue to cook in the pan), add the nuts and the kosher salt and toss with 2 large spoons until the nuts are completely coated.
Pour the nuts and any extra caramel in the pan onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Spread the nuts out in one layer, pulling them apart with two forks. Sprinkle with the fleur de sel and set aside to cool. When they’re completely cooled, carefully break the nuts into large clusters with your hands, trying not to break the nuts too much.