Monday, September 28, 2009

Ouray

Our hearts still beating faster than normal (from our off-road excursion), we got back onto US 550 to go the remaining 20 miles to Ouray. For the first few miles the curves weren't particularly spectacular, but the nearer we came to our destination, the curvier the road and the steeper the canyons. There were places where there was no shoulder at all, and no guardrails either. We took it very slowly, as did everyone else. Passing was prohibited on most of the road, so we were usually in a small line of cars, each of us winding our way to what felt like the top of the world.



We passed by a pretty stream, through a cool tunnel, by the old Yankee Girl Mine, and beneath an avalanche shelter (all shown below) before we arrived. (The Yankee Girl Mine was one of the richest concentrations of high grade silver ore in the U.S. The shaft went nearly straight down, 1200 vertical feet. Twelve levels were developed below ground.)





Dan, who did all of the driving, was really spent by the time we arrived in Ouray. Here was our first welcoming sight of that beautiful historic town.


We ate a a nice little restaurant/bar. They had outside seating, but we ate indoors for lack of space outside. As you can see from this photo, the setting of the town makes for amazing mountain views.


As we left the restaurant, I was attracted to this gate, leading into a private yard. But when I viewed the photo, later, I realized that the gate seemed insignificant compared to the background scenery that I captured.


The little town of Ouray reminded me a lot of Skagway, Alaska. Those of you from Alaska can probably see the resemblance.


After lunch we got back in the car for the return trip, which only differed from the morning's drive in that we did NOT try any off-roading. When we were getting close to Durango, we stopped at Honeyville ("The Land of Elk and Honey," as their sign says). Honeyville sells their own wildflower honey, made by the bees they keep. They also sell other Colorado products, including chokecherry jelly. I remember my good friend, Louise, talking about the homemade chokecherry jelly that her family, in North Dakota, used to make. (Louise, you can order it from Honeyville. Click HERE.) We bought a jar of raw honey, some honey coated cashews and some peanut brittle.




We were back at our hotel, in Durango, by mid-afternoon, in time to take a short nap before we went to dinner. We found a nice little Chinese restaurant that overlooked the Animas River and the river walk. Our young waiter was a student at Fort Lewis College (Durango), and, in conversation, we learned that he was Athabaskan and grew up in Anchorage, Alaska.

Our waiter was one of several people we enjoyed meeting on this trip. On Friday evening, as we were walking along the river, we met a local couple (about our age) with whom we talked for 15 minutes or so. Later that evening we went to eat dinner at a place called Serious Texas Barbecue, and were invited to share a table with a couple we met in line, from Georgia. And on Sunday morning we worshipped with the Durango Church of Christ, where we met the preacher's wife (the preacher was out of town, holding a meeting), and through conversation figured out that all four of us had gone to college together, and that she and I had both lived in the same dorm at the same time. Small world!

Silverton and Our Off-Road Adventure

Saturday morning dawned, and we hopped in the Escape for a day-trip to Ouray. We left Durango, going north on US 550, and wound through 47 miles of beautiful countryside, to the town of Silverton. On that leg of the trip we came to a couple of different summits that were between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. The fall leaves were beautiful and, of course, were more brilliant at the higher altitudes. Here are a few pictures taken between Durango and Silverton.






This is the town of Silverton, as seen from US 550. We did not take the Silverton exit, but chose, instead, to push on to Ouray. Both Silverton and Ouray are small towns, rich in gold mining history.


We weren't very far away from Silverton when we saw a pretty waterfall up on a mountainside. There appeared to be a gravel road going up that direction, so Dan, wanting to get me to a spot where I could take a great photo, drove off the highway and made his way up this gravel road. We came to a clearning, and saw that there was another road/trail that continued up the side of the mountain, in the direction of the waterfall. We rolled down our window to talk with a local lady and her children who had just come down that road/trail. Dan asked her if it was safe to drive up there, and she said it would be fine, with 4-wheel drive, and that part way up there was a nice spot for turning around. That was all that Dan needed to hear, so up we started, with me chewing my fingernails.


When we got to the spot where the lady had told us we could turn around "easily," that was not the case. We actually had to back up into the rocks at the base of a small waterfall (not the big one that we had originally sought). Dan had me get out of the car and give him directions, so that we wouldn't hit the cliff beside the falls or puncture the underside of the car on some of the big rocks. Or at least that's what he said. I really think he just wanted me out of the car in case . . . well, let's not go there. I'll just mention that it would have been a long fall if the car went off the edge!

Here's where we turned around. Trust me, it was scarier than it looks in the picture. I guess you just had to be there!


That night I couldn't go to sleep for re-living this "adventure." But the good news is that we made it back down, and we sustained NO damage to the car. (Thank you God!)

A little shaky from our off-roading adventure, we continued on US 550 to Ouray. That leg of the trip, too, had it's own thrills! Check back tomorrow for the rest of the narrative and pictures.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Durango

Dan and I took Friday off from work, and headed to Durango, CO, to spend the weekend. Durango is less than four hours from Albuquerque, and now we wonder why we had never gone there before.

Coming into Durango, from the south, you get a great view of the town, down in the valley between the mountains.

Durango's old downtown is the heart of the city, and Main Street is lined with historic old buildings from the gold mining days, like this one, the Strater Hotel. Durango is now a tourist town, and close enough to the Purgatory Ski Resort (now called the Durango Mountain Resort) to attract tourists in all seasons.


The Animas River flows through town. We took a walk in a park that borders the river. One night we also ate at a restaurant that sits along the river walk.

Durango is a railroad town. It was founded by The Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad in 1879. This railroad has been in continuous operation for 127 years! Their historic coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives make several runs a day, one of them to the old mining town of Silverton. We chose to drive to Silverton this time, but would like to take the train when we visit again. Here are a couple pictures of the train trestle passing over the Animas River.


And this is the train station, at the end of Main Street in old town.

On Saturday morning we headed a little farther north, to the town of Ouray (pronounced You-Ray), passing by Silverton on the way. We had been told that this was a beautiful trip, but that the road was narrow and winding, the cliffs steep, and in most places there were no guard rails. But words couldn't prepare us for our excursion to Ouray. I'll post some pictures of our adventurous day, going to Ouray, in another day or two. I have to say, though, that pictures - at least my pictures - don't begin to do justice to the thrill-factor.

The Daring Bakers' September Challenge - Vols-au-Vent

(Which I am pretty sure must mean, “After one bite we could die and go to heaven!” in French.)

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. (Recipe HERE)

I had never before made puff pastry, although I had made Danish pastry. Both of those doughs are from the "laminated" dough family, so-called because they are composed of many, many thin layers, each separated by a thin layer of butter. The main difference, though, is that Danish pastry uses yeast as a leaven; puff pastry has no leavening. It depends upon the expanding steam, between the layers, for its rise. And rise it DOES!

Laminated dough begins with a large block of cold butter (beurrage, in French), pounded into a square shape and then enclosed in a sheet of dough (the d├ętrempe).


The entire packet is known as the paton and is rolled and folded repeatedly (refrigerated between rollings). For the puff pastry dough that I made for this recipe, Dan and I calculated that, at the end of the rolls-and-turns, I had 1,458 layers of dough with a thin film of butter between each one! I know you can't make out all 1,458 layers in this picture, but I think you can see how striated it is. The two more prominent breaks in the dough are where the dough was folded the last time.


Finally the dough was rolled out, one last time, and cut into shapes; put onto some parchment paper on a baking sheet; brushed with an egg wash; and baked.


When the vols au vent came out of the oven, they were puffed up, tall, and stayed that way as they cooled.


For successful completion of this challenge, we were permitted to fill our vols au vent with anything we liked: a savory filling, such as chicken salad; or a sweet filling, which was what I chose. I combined whipped cream with lemon curd, piped it into the hollow of the vols au vent, and topped each one with a big fat raspberry, a slice of kiwi, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Yum!

From this recipe, I turned out twelve (yes, only twelve!) completed individual desserts. Dan and I had a potluck party to go to that evening, so I took them to share with everyone. I know of at least two ladies who hit the dessert table before the main course table, so they wouldn't miss out!


I'm really happy to have been challenged to make my own puff pastry. It was so rewarding, watching the dough rise as if by magic! Lots of thanks, Steph, for all of your work in hosting this month's Daring Bakers' challenge.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mark It On the Calendar

Today was the first day, since sometime last spring, that I drove home from work without turning on the air conditioning. For the past couple of days we've been having heavy rain, especially at night time, and thick clouds during the day. In the desert, that's a welcome blessing. I'm not sure if it was weather-related, but the power went off twice this morning at work. Today's high temperature was only 68 degrees.

Looking west from our backyard deck.

One of our stepping stones, in the backyard, after a passing shower this afternoon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Potluck

We joined in with some other church friends for a Labor Day potluck meal at the home the Jones'. They live in what is known as "the East Mountains," just east of Albuquerque. It takes us almost an hour to drive up into the hills to where their house sits on a beautiful piece of property, overlooking the wooded valley, below, and the Sandias, to the north.

Here are a few pictures of our day.

Why wait for dessert? I'll show it to you first.

I caught some of the ladies sampling hot-from-the-oven jalapeno poppers, before the meal officially started.

Just eatin' and talkin'

You might know these two folks.

One corner of the Jones' yard.

Looking down over the tops of the trees, from their front yard.

A pretty porch decoration.

The kids enjoyed the swings, slides and playhouse.

Aaron and Brittany had gone hunting in the wee hours of the morning, so showed up in their camos.

One of the Jones' grandkids - "When can we eat?"

Before we all left, we were urged to take tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and bell peppers, all fresh from the Jones' vegetable garden.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Little Free Notoriety

Well, look at THIS -- an article in the Washington Post that features the Daring Bakers, along with a few other on-line baking/cooking groups. Nice.