hiking mondays: st. mary's glacier (and the sprouted kitchen's ranchero black bean breakfast tostadas)

The other day, Otis turned to me and said, "Mommy, I love Colorado..." (whereby his 'r' was pronounced like a 'w'). I asked him what in particular he liked about our adopted home state and he replied, "I like the sky. I like the sunset. I like the mountains. I love the cupcakes. I like the ice cream. I like the farms. I like the rivers. I like my room. I like you. I like daddy and baby. I like the dinosaurs...(and so on and so forth)." That's when I realized that he simply loved our life here, and that we had done right by him and his brother. I also recognized that he has a serious sweet tooth.
Someone once gave me a bit of parenting advice that went something like, "start 'em young"- which is what we have tried to do with our children. We've exposed them to art and music and we hope we've given them an appreciation for books and the ability to think creatively. And every week, despite their young age, we've shown them how wonderful and spectacular their environment is, right here in this beautiful place called Colorado. On Mondays we get dressed, slather on the sunscreen, grab our hiking buckets (which aids in the collection of rocks) and set out on a trail...Nothing, and I mean nothing, can beat nature. I've often said that being out in the wilderness is the closest I come to feeling any sort of spirituality or religiosity, and it's one of the few ways I can really clear my mind. At the very least, it helps put things into perspective. The mountains here are so breathtaking, the sunsets are nothing short of spectacular...and the fact that so many incredible places are only an hour's drive from our urban oasis, makes me happy and thankful. Yesterday we went to St. Mary's Glacier. We've been once before, but this time the boys did a great majority of the ascend and descend by themselves. Theodore excitedly jumped over the boulders and Otis loved skipping rocks once we got to the glacial lake. We all got a big kick out of the snow-shoers and sledders who were having fun on the glacier (look closely and you'll see them! They are the little black dots on the widest swath of snow.).
While we were laughing and walking up the mountain, something happened that brought me to tears. As we were rounding a bend, a youthful, female Rottweiler-Labrador mix came running around the curve. She took my breath away. I was standing next to Theo who screamed out, "Omar. It's Omar, mommy. Look, you see?" But as many of you know, Omar is no longer with us. The dog, Abby, bore the most striking resemblance to Omar that I have ever seen, and as we pet Abby I began to cry. 
I thought about Omar the rest of the way up the mountain. But as we got to the glacier and saw the lake, I had this feeling that everything would be okay. The vastness and the beauty of nature makes us feel like, even in times of loss, we can still go on...because there is still so much beauty remaining. And so, as I sat with my boys and my husband by the lake, I thought about how good our life is, despite the heartache and challenges that come with the journey...and I thought about a dog named Omar, whom I still miss dearly. 

location: St. Mary's Glacier is near Idaho Springs, exit 238 off I-70 and follow the signs. 
elevation: 10,000 feet.
duration: 3/4 of a mile each way.
hiking terrain: Rocky boulders all the way up until you get to the lake and the glacier. 
things people do at the lake: picnic, walk, snow-shoe, cliff dive (I'm not endorsing this one), climb trees, sled.
other stuff: There is a $5 fee for the parking lot. Do not park on the side of the roadway or you will get towed. Walk up the hill from the parking lot. On the left-hand side, past a gate, you will see an opening and a sign for St. Mary's Glacier.
and a final caveat: The traffic coming back into Denver on I-70 can get pretty bad due to tunnel construction. Bring good music and/or a book (if you're not the driver). You'll need it!
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Before heading out, I made this. It was simple, tasty, and filling-- it kept me going the whole way up and the whole way down from St. Mary's Glacier. 

Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas
barely modified from A Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods (by Sara Forte)
Serves 4
Notes: I used canned beans, but you could soak fresh ones overnight. I topped the tostada with a fried egg, but a poached or scrambled egg would work just as well.


Black Bean Mash
2 cups cooked black beans (I used canned in the interest of time)
1/4 to 1/2 cup light sour cream (I liked it better with, not surprisingly, the 1/2 cup)
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

8 small corn tortillas
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 eggs
1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
2 avocados, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, in wedges
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

Whether cooking the beans from scratch or using canned, drain the beans and add them to a saucepan over low heat and warm through. Add about 1/4 cup tepid water, 1/4 cup of the sour cream, the green onions, cumin, salt, and pepper and mash with a potato masher or a large fork until coarsely mashed but not entirely smooth. Taste for salt and pepper, add the remaining sour cream if you'd like the beans to be creamier, then turn off the heat and keep covered until needed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the tops of the tortillas with a bit of olive oil and lay them on a rimmed baking sheet (it's fine if they overlap). Bake until just lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan with the coconut oil over medium heat. Working in batches as necessary, gently break the eggs in the pan and cook sunny-side up or to your desired doneness, covering the pan if you like your yolks more cooked through. Build a tostada by topping a tortilla with about 1/4 cup of the bean mash, 1 egg, and an eighth of the cheese, avocado slices, and cilantro. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve garnished with a slice of lime and hot sauce to taste.

Super Bowl Chili and Our Trip to Breckenridge

This week I was going to take the boys to one of our regular morning places, the Denver Children's Museum. But when my husband suggested that we head to the mountains for a little day trip instead, I was on board. We decided to go to Breckenridge-- a beautiful, historic ski town which I like calling "The Ridge," but which most locals refer to, simply, as Breck. The 22nd International Snow Sculpture Championship was taking place and we both agreed that the boys would like it. It was absolutely gorgeous. 
I should note that this is the best winter I've ever had. Most winter days are between 40 and 50 degrees...and there are some 60 degree days sprinkled in there too. But we also get snow. And what's winter without snow? You need to have sledding, snow fights and snowman building, right? 
Anyway, our day trip took us up into the mountains on I-70 and the ride was absolutely spectacular. Here are a few pictures from our outing. The snow sculptures were great, though some of the more ephemeral pieces gave way to nature by the time we got there and were reduced to rubble. But there were still some great sculptures-- my personal favorite was "Ice House," the Canadian entry.
When we got back home I decided to make a quick, simple, one-pot dinner of vegetarian black bean chili with orange and cumin. It's also the perfect thing to make for the Super Bowl today! (Go Giants? That's my hometown team, but let's be honest, I've never successfully watched an entire game of football in my life.) I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and it turned out great. I added salt and pepper to taste, and a good amount of Panola Hot Sauce. I topped it with a tablespoon of sour cream (though you could easily keep this vegan) and a little bit of chopped cilantro. Perfect! 

* * * 
Vegetarian Black Bean Chili with Orange and Cumin (Courtesy of Bon Appetit
Serves 4
2 oranges
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, pressed
4 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 15.5-ounce cans seasoned black beans, drained
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
Hot pepper sauce
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Chopped fresh cilantro
Grate enough orange peel to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons. Juice oranges. Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 5 minutes. Mix in garlic and spices. Add beans, tomatoes, and half of orange juice. Simmer over medium heat until heated through and flavors blend, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Mix in orange peel and remaining orange juice. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Ladle chili into bowls. Top with sour cream and cilantro. Pass extra hot sauce alongside.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

Pasta is my default entree, my go-to for dinner. I can tear into a baked ziti, a mac-n-cheese or a lasagna like nobody's business. But I'm starting to see that I have a culinary weakness--  I don't have a large non-pasta, main-dish repertoire. And I need to branch out. Indian and Ethiopian cuisine are two great ethnic choices to draw from. But at the end of the day I'd rather do take-out because the Indian restaurants in our neighborhood are actually quite good. And as far as Ethiopian food goes, I mean who can really compete with Meskerem, which is only a few stops away on the B train. For a few bucks and a subway ride, I've got 8 delicious Ethiopian mezes...all without even messing up a pot. But I've come to the point in my life where I have to start making great mains that aren't Italian pastas. This is me taking a stab at it. And the verdict? Well let's just say, mission accomplished. 
* * *
Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili is seasonal, flavorful, spicy, easy to make, packed with protein and it will warm you up on a cold night.  This was my first attempt at making chili at home and it was a total success. 
Getting the 'pumpkin meat' out of the shell was a fun little exercise that had me heating the pumpkin in a 450 degree oven for a few minutes, then wrapping it in a towel and smashing it on the ground until the shell completely opened.  What a great way to get out stress or extra energy! When I googled "how can I cut through a pumpkin shell/skin" I kept on getting advice that required me to use a microwave. Well, I don't have one.  So after calling a friend and using my smarts, I got to the pumpkin meat by the method described above. It was pretty easy. I also used a habanero sauce I got in Belize, which infused the chili with more great heat.  
Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili 
Adapted from Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl
by way of Saveur Magazine, January 2010
1 small pie pumpkin
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 oz) plum tomatoes.  (The original recipe calls for chopped tomatoes, but I ran mine through the blender really quickly because I am not a fan of super chunky tomatoes.) 
2 cans (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bottle (300 ml) stout (such as Guinness or Dragon) OR (this is my adaptation) 200 ml of Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout.  It wasn't sure it would work, but it was a really nice pick and/or gamble. 
2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp each cinnamon and oregano
1 individual chipotle pepper, finely minced 
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped 
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 pinch of Ancho Chili Powder (I added this and it gave the chili some nice, smooth heat.)
I added a few drops of Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce. Pop!
For garnish: a tablespoon of chopped scallion, a dollop of sour cream, and a bit of good cheddar cheese. (All optional, but really the way to go.)
Using a sharp paring knife, cut the pumpkin into 1/2" cubes.
Pour the olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and squash, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until onion is golden. Stir in tomatoes, beans, beer, brown sugar, spices and chipotle peppers.
Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Stir in red pepper and corn, and continue simmering for another 5-10 minutes or until corn is bright yellow and peppers are soft.
Optional: Add a pinch of Ancho Chili Powder and/or Habanero Pepper Sauce.  Adjust heat and seasonings to your liking.
Serve piping hot with your favorite chili toppings. 

I Heart Frijoles (Soup)!

Everyone Loves Black Bean Soup!
There are people who can assemble dishes without the assistance of a cookbook or a recipe. My friend Yana is one such person. All she needs to do is take one quick look at the foodstock in her fridge, glance at her spice rack, combine the ingredients and, presto, a wonderful dinner is served.  I'm not like that. I have to plan in advance and shop with a list. One exception to this is my Black Bean Soup. Truth be told it was inspired by Yana's bean soup, yet it is totally original and it was born out of a trial-and-error process, which took place in my itsy-bitsy kitchen. I think it's perfect! It's easy to make, has tons of fiber and it goes down much easier than Metamucil....

Bassy's Black Bean Soup
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced width-wise about an 1/8 of an inch (in circles)
  • 1 celery rib, top leaves removed and sliced
  • 1 1/4 tablespoon of cumin
  • 3/4 tsp salt (more to taste)
  • 2 15 oz cans of Organic Black Beans (I usually soak and cook my beans, but for this recipe I use canned. I really like Westbrae Organic or Muir Glen. Try and find cans that are BPA-free.)Use the liquid from ONE can of beans.
  • 2 1/4 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock (you can use water, but stock gives it more flavor. Occasionally I make my own stock and freeze it, de-frosting it when needed.)
  • 1 bay leaf (make sure to remove it before you puree the soup, otherwise it leaves a bitter taste.)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
  • Lime juice for garnish
  • 1 dollop of sour cream for garnish (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of avocado for garnish (optional)
In a large heavy pot or a dutch oven, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is heated, add the chopped onions and stir until there are translucent, about 4-5 minutes (make sure they don't brown). Add the celery and carrots. Stir occasionally over a medium flame for 5 minutes. Add the cumin and salt. Cook for 1 minute and then add two cans of black beans, using one can of liquid. Add the stock, baking soda and bay leaf. Lower the flame and cover. Let the soup cook for 20 minutes on a low-to-medium flame. The soup should have a beautiful brown color and not look murky-- that means the baking soda has completely dissolved. Remove the bay leaf. Let the soup cool just a bit. Add some salt if needed.

Use a hand-held immersion blender (or a regular blender if that is what you have) and puree the soup until it's smooth.
Serve hot or cold with 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice per bowl, a dollop of sour cream and some avocado, which I mash up with a pinch of salt and a drop of lemon juice.

This is a great soup for early fall...Enjoy!