Friday, October 30, 2009

Thayer and I were watching TV tonight when we heard a really strange noise.  It was a strange repeated metallic 'plink'.  This was not the first time that our nighttime television was interrupted by strange noises- remember woodrat?  So Thayer went to investigate and as he was about to climb the stairs, he discovered the source of the noise. 

This little mousie was cleaning all the bait (organic nutella) off our used mousetraps.  We had piled them up on the stairs, ready to go up to the bedroom, where we've been catching tons of mice.  He was so stunned by the flashlight that Thayer was holding that I was able to scoop him up into a tupperware.

I walked him over to a nearby unoccupied cabin, hoping that he would make that his new home.  He'll probably just show up again in a few days..... oh, well.

[T- he was a really tiny little guy.  Maybe that's why he was so gullible.
  In other animal sightings news, when we were coming back from Gunnison on Tuesday as I was driving the dirt road from Mount CB to Gothic, it was snowing a little and the road was all white.  Jessica, who was looking out hte window, noticed a round black thing sitting in the snow on the side of the road and made me pull over.  It was a baby porcupine!  It was a little guy, only about the size of a basketball (N Am. porcupines get over three feet long and can weigh up to 40 pounds!).  He was a little leery of us, and kept turning to display his quilly butt to us, but when we split up and each stood several feet to either side of him, he got a little less cautious.  He stood up and turned and looked at each of us, and then decided to (unbelievably clumsily) make his way down the hill off the road.  His tail was still really little, it looked like a Glyptodon tail and hadn't achieved the big dragging paddle shape of adult porcupines.  He almost rolled down the hill at one point, we were amazed he could even stay on his feet, he waddled so badly.  We didn't have the camera though.  Bully on us, eh?]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More snow

Gothic was blanketed in a couple of inches of fluffy snow today, so Thayer and I tested out our cross country skis.  It was lots of fun, even if we fell a couple of times.  Living on a hill has a few distinct disadvantages when it comes to my klutzy cross country skiing.  I'm sure that we'll get the hang of it eventually!

 [T - I had to take the first picture, in case you're wondering why I'm not wearing mittens.  I didn't really ski without mittens.  My hands would have been very snowy.  The skiing was fun, we kind of milled around Gothic.  It's not deep enough to be very smooth skiing yet, and bushes and grass are still kinda in the way, but it was decent on the trails.  I only fell down a couple times, although I wasn't graceful]

As we were sitting in front of Gates, the two gray jays came over to investigate.  Remember that you can click this photo to see a bigger image!

This afternoon, I made some oatmeal sourdough bread.  I used Betsy Oppeneer's recipe for 13-grain bread from The Bread Book.  Thayer and I kinda changed the recipe to use oatmeal (not 13 grain cereal) and added sorghum syrup in addition to honey.  It turned out really well.  The cabin was pretty chilly today, so I was worried about rising, but we just set the bowl near wood stove and it rose nicely.

[T - the bread is delicious and unique, especially lightly salted]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weather Station

We woke up this morning to a chilly cabin and a brilliant pink sunrise.  This photo doesn't do it justice.\

[T - I snapped the picture too late, after almost all the dawn pink had faded away.  There was a very small window to really capture it]

After a quick breakfast (leftover muffins, toast, and coffee), we hiked up to the weather station to do our biweekly maintenance (we trade off with John).  The weather station is up on a little hill.

It's a little box- but it's heated!   I recorded lots of numbers onto sheets.  Very exciting!

Here's a view of the ozone filter (on the right) and the wind speed/direction monitor (on the left).  They're on top of the weather station.

The ozone filter gets swapped out every week.  The tower is lowered by a rope.

The rain gauge and precipitation collector bucket are on top of this scaffolding.
Performing tests to make sure the precipitation is recorded correctly.

And we're done!

And now, we're off to Gunnison to pick up some more food supplies before it snows.  We're supposed to get a major storm tonight/tomorrow/the next day!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yet another post about baking

This morning, I had freshly baked sourdough muffins with my coffee!  Fresh and hot out of the oven, they were absolutely delicious.  I used Betsy's recipe from The Bread Book.  The dough is mixed up in the evening, left to sit and ripen over night, and then spooned into muffin tins and popped into the oven.  They bake for just 20 minutes and then- voila- fresh muffins!

They were great on their own, with an interesting slightly sourdough taste and a nice spongy texture, but they also would be great to smear things on.  Thayer thinks they'd be great covered in butter (but then again, what isn't).  I think a tart orange marmalade would be fab.

And they were really nice with coffee.  The cabin temp was about 54 F when we woke up, so warm breakfast was greatly appreciated.

You must think that all we do is bake.  It's not true, I promise!  The thing is, our other activities aren't particularly blogable.  I'm knitting a lot of Christmas presents at the moment, and since their recipients read the blog, I can't show you pictures.  We're doing grad school apps at the moment, and that's just not very interesting to most people.  But maybe you'd like to know where we're applying?  So far, it looks like I'm applying to the University of Oklahoma, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Minnesota at Duluth, and Cornell University.  And it looks like Thayer is applying to Michigan State University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Minnesota at Duluth.  These lists aren't quite finalized, and we're still waiting to hear back from some folks, but it gives you an idea.

And we're reading.  Right now, we're reading aloud Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I'm reading The Great Mortality: An intimate history of the Black Death, the most devastating plague of all time, by John Kelly.  Kelly tells the story of how the plague impacted (mostly) European cities and why its impact was so severely dramatic (I'll give you a hint- marmots).  I'm also reading English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, which I've talked about in previous posts (and was suggested by Scott).  Thayer is reading The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood.  We haven't forgotten your recommendations for reading- those are on our lists, too!  We've also become slight news junkies- Thayer reads the BBC news and I the NYTimes, among other things.  As we go about our very fast-paced days, we're listening to NPR and classical public radio (Chicago and Minneapolis).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bread that actually turned out!

Today, excited by my recent acquisition of Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, I decided to make a nice loaf of bread.  I used her recipe for 'a basic loaf'.  It turned out wonderfully!  Thayer thinks it's the best basic loaf we've ever made.  It's light and has a nice and rich flavor to it, considering that it's just flour, water, and yeast.  My shaping leaves a little something to be desired, but otherwise... mmmm.

Also, my mom sent me this pretty little rock that she found on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Doesn't it make a cool necklace?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Epic Fail

On Wednesday night, I started a sponge for some German rye sourdough bread (from Oppenneer's The Bread Book).  My sponge was happy and bubbly by Thursday morning.  We left to help the RMBL office with some mailings that ended up taking about 4.5 hours.

[T-Sarah put us to work stuffing envelopes with personalized mailers to all the people who love RMBL.  I was pretty antsy by the time we were done, but at least we survived without going completely batty, which I can only imagine Sarah would have without a bunch of volunteer help.  Also, she gave us blueberry muffins, so no harm no foul.  Om nom. Oh, and if you are reading this and you got one of RMBL's mailers, you should stuff the return envelope full of money, because we worked hard to make sure you got a mailer with your name on it and everything!]

We also had some food in town, went to the library (where I picked up Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery), and picked up our mail (including my x-country skis!).  I also searched for candy corn in Clark's, the little grocery store, but in vain!

[T - we did get candy at the bank though.  We dropped off some deposits for RMBL at two of the local banks, and I got an orange dum-dum at one and a box of Halloween nerds at another!  There was a big gummi fly I wanted to try, but I love nerds too much to pass them up, and in reality, it probably wouldn't have been very good.  It was just so enticing.  Also, as a result of the high altitude, its wrapper was puffed up like a balloon, which was probably part of the reason why I was so tempted to get it.]

Upon concluding our errands and returning to Gothic, I started my rye bread.  Everything was going fine until I had shaped it into two little freestanding loaves to let it rise for the last time.  They simply would not rise up- only out!  The dough rose just fine in the bowl the first time.  I suspect that my dough wasn't sturdy/thick enough for freestanding loaves.  Oh well.  It was baked and cooled last night.

This morning, I sliced off a piece and popped it into my mouth.  It was really REALLY strange tasting.  Honestly, the only way I could describe it to Thayer at first was 'weird, very weird'.  The recipe had called for 3 tablespoons caraway seeds, which, at the time, seemed like too many.  It was too many.  As Thayer said, it tasted like sticking your face into an Indian spice rack.  Also, the dough did not rise enough.  It was really heavy tasting bread.  I don't know, maybe it's edible with copious amounts of good butter.  But it certainly is not tasty.  We're going to try to make them into bread crumbs and croutons.  I think it might work for croutons on our Indian inspired stir-fries and soups.

[T- The bread got lodged in my teeth too, so I couldn't escape the sensation that I had just eaten a package of nightmarishly caraway-infused paste.  I don't really know what the bread is like, just because you can't notice anything around its...unique flavor.  I think that as bread crumbs, it may well add a delightful flavor to a dish.]

[T - today we also helped out Jenny (science director at RMBL) fill in plots that had been dug out as part of research on an invasive plant.  They were investigating whether a very thorough soil disruption and displacement will prevent regrowth, and as a result, there were twenty plots with the top 5-10 inches dug out, and we grabbed some shovels and put the dirt back into the plots.  Just some practice for grad school...

At any rate, it was nice.  We started off our day with some exercise, and it was a clear sunny day, but cool enough that the shoveling didn't get hot.  I also find physical labor like that very refreshing (for a while) and we finished filling in the plots about the same time that I was tired of shoveling dirt, so it worked out well!  Also, Jenny appreciated the help, and J and I have a fair amount of time on our hands, after all.  I was just glad I wasn't the one shoveling them out in the first place, as the dirt gets very packed around here and is absolutely full of rocks, all the way up to shovel-blade sized boulders.  Apparently, after they did the first few by hand, they realized how insanely difficult it was and moved on to a more mechanized approach.

As a COMPLETELY unrelated side note note, I also wanted to add a very special tag that for those of you who don't know, sourdough mothers form a delightful liquid on the top of them as they sit.  Now, as we all know (or should), the metabolic byproduct of yeast as it digests sugar in a restricted oxygen environment is ethanol, so this liquid is actually alcoholic.  This liquid is called 'hooch'.  The starter has about a thick cm of it on top- J takes a perverse amount of pleasure in referring to it as a  'hoochie mama'.  I tolerate it, out of the kindness of my heart.  Apparently, in the pioneer days, desperate for anything remotely entertaining, people drank it right off the starter when it formed.  Jessica and I have yet to try it, but we are curious about just how foul it is.  We will keep you posted.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some very sour dough

Over the past 10 days, I've been meticulously following James Beard's recipe for sourdough.  For those of you unfamiliar with the process, you let a milk/flour/sugar/yeast mixture sit on the counter and get really foul for about a week- that's your starter.  Then, you use a cup of your starter and mix it with flour and more yeast and - tah dah!  Sourdough.  Here's a view of my starter

And, after three risings, here are my loaves.

At this point, the process started to go wrong.  Using our sharpest knife (which is still pretty darn dull) I tried to make cuts in the loaves.  Then they collapsed.  Seriously.  It was pretty depressing.  So then I tried to put the loaves into the oven, and, being me, I dropped them.  Dropped them!  I put them back on the pan, shoved them into the oven, and tried to ignore the fact that one of the loaves now had marks from where it had fallen onto the oven rack.  Well, about 35 minutes later, I pulled these out of the oven.  Not ruined at all, despite my best efforts.  But see how the one on the left has those imprints?  Oven rack.

They're quite tasty- not too sour.  Thayer actually likes them, even though he doesn't normally like sourdough.  And now that I have a good starter, I can make sourdough like a maniac!
Mmmmm coffee, nutella, and sourdough tartines.

Monday, October 19, 2009

There is a pair of gray jays who often come around our cabin in the late afternoon.  They make funny jay-ish noises.  You can listen to their calls here.  This is't a fabulous picture, but they seem to know when I have a camera in my hands and object to having their picture taken.

[T- they're bigger than they look in this picture.  They're fairly stocky birds, and are about the size of a dove.  Definitely bigger than the blue jays you see around the midwest.  There aren't any blue jays here, actually, but we do have Stellar's Jays, which are also a little bigger, but not as big as gray jays.  They're absolutely beautiful, and kind of iridescent.  Our first experience with the gray jays was out hiking, when we stopped to sit on a log and a pair of them flew over and peered at us suspiciously from a low branch of a tree.  Later we read that they often poke around campgrounds or picnic grounds looking for tasty things people have left.  That pair was probably disappointed, as we didn't have any food.  Speaking of birds, we will have a special opportunity that isn't really available outside of Alaska, except for here - ptarmigans visit the area in the winter!  We're both super excited to see them, although supposedly it's actually mostly terrifying since you'll be skiing along and previously invisible birds explode out of the snow right in front of you.]

Not much has been happening around here.  Gothic is now home to only Billy, John, Thayer, and myself.  It's very quiet, for the most part.  We've been helping a little with tasks that need to get finished before winter hits.  We cleaned up two cabins- Barclay and Maroon.  Barclay was renovated this summer, so we helped tidy, sweep, and remove cobwebs.

[T - it was terrifyingly dusty, as you may be familiar with if you've ever seen anything being renovated or constructed out of wood.  Jessica attacked the ceiling and walls with a broom while I zoomed around with a 15 gallon shop vac sucking up copious amounts of wood dust and debris]

Maroon cabin is a newly constructed cabin that is rented out through the winter for cross country skiers.  Part of our job this winter will be to keep Maroon clean after skiers have used it.  On Saturday, Thayer and I helped John to take down some of the fencing around RMBL.  There are extensive fences surrounding all of the RMBL property to keep out the cows during their fall romp through the valley.  Unfortunately, though, the massive amounts of snow we get can really damage our fences and gates unless if they're dismantled in the fall.  The cows have now left, so, we disassembled the barbed-wire and high-tension fencing on a beautiful fall day.
[T- it was hard work!  Doing anything off the road is hard work here.  Trudging around in the woods and fields is a workout.  We also saw a pretty little waterfall that has cut a diagonal shelf out of the side of a rock face.  It looks fake, but it's not.  I also saw little fishies in the river!  I don't know what they were, as they had no desire to be examined closely and I was supposed to be working anyway.  Oh!  We also walked past some beaver ponds and saw a lodge in the distance, and saw quite a few beaver-assaulted aspens as well.  I don't suppose we'll be seeing any beavers until next spring, as I suspect they're lying low with the onset of cold weather.]
It really is fall around here.  All of our aspens have lost their leaves, as you can see here

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


As I'm in between some bigger knitting projects and waiting for some yarn I ordered, I decided to start working on little Christmas ornaments.  Some of these will probably go as gifts, and some will decorate our cabin.  Here are two of them, both knit out of my handspun yarn.

As you can see in the video below, it snowed quite a bit today!  There were maybe three inches of accumulation.  By late afternoon, much of it had melted, but there is still some on the ground!

[T- we also did the weather station today, for the first time on our own without John supervising.  It went well, and we mailed off a sample of our snow for the weather station people.  Actually, it was melted snow, so we mailed them a jar of water]


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pita Bread!

We made pita bread last night.  As usual, we used one of James Beard's recipes.  It called for 'hard wheat' but we subbed in some all purpose mixed with whole wheat.  First we made 8 little balls of dough.

Then we rolled them out flat and coated the bottom with ground up oatmeal (i.e. cornmeal substitute).

We baked them for just about 7 minutes.  Pita bread!
 They turned out pretty darn good, although a little lumpy and 'homemade' looking.  We used some of our bulk falafel mix to make some little falafel patties.  And voila... dinner!

In other news, Thayer and I are working on the grad school application process, which is taking up a surprising amount of time.  Currently, we're contacting potential advisers and waiting for responses.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

These mule deer (and many others) have been munching on our 'backyard' pretty regularly.  Hopefully they're fattening up for winter.
[T-they walked right past our picture window the other day, and were sort of confused as to what was going on, but they were pretty sure we weren't trying to eat them]

Two nights ago, we made homemade refried beans for dinner.  For how simple they were (mashed up pinto beans with onions and a little spice), they were delicious.  We made burritos with some of the tortillas that my Grandma sent.
[T-they were sooooooooo gooooood!]

As yesterday was Tuesday, we did weather station maintenance with John.  It went well, and I think we're getting the hang of it!  Unfortunately, the bucket that collects rain/snow was totally frozen through and we had to wait for it to thaw before we could pour the water sample into a bottle.  In the meantime, John helped us to collect this

A freaking HUGE television.  It didn't look that big (okay, it looked big, but not THIS big) until we got it into the cabin and compared its size with our furniture.  It now takes up the entire wall where we used to have a bookshelf.  We watched some Gilmore Girls on it last night- just to test it out, of course- and it is great.  I'm still mildly alarmed by its size and feel like I should be watching sports on it or something (isn't that why people have big tvs?).
[T-it's got mundo glare problems during the day, but it works great at night!  Oh, and P.S. if anyone out there reading our blog lives near a Penzy's (hi mom!), we're going through spices faster than  anticipated, and if one felt like sending a package of fun things, some Penzy's spices would be great, especially fox point seasoning!]

Monday, October 5, 2009


We caught the second woodrat on Saturday!  He was very cute, although I forgot to take a picture of him for the blog, because we handed him off before I had expected.  J and I were out getting cows out of Gothic and John stopped by in the Subaru, and he was heading into town, so I gave him woodrat to drop off since he was already going that way.  Hopefully we will not get any more woodrat visitors...

Friday, October 2, 2009

woodrat 2

T - last night at 4 in the morning, J and I woke up to a really loud thumping noise of an unidentified nature.  After a few seconds of us both sitting up and clarifying that it was not imaginary and agreeing that it, unfortunately, DID sound as if it came from inside, I grudgingly agreed to get dressed and investigate.  It was, after all, a rather alarmingly loud thumping, and I was convinced I heard some other scratchy noises after it.  I was very much hoping that a certain mr. bear was not trying to stay in our cabin with us, so I started by investigating upstairs locations.  Did anything tip over in the closet?  No, it didn't appear so.  Nothing looked out of place in the bedroom.  Was there anything going on in the spare bedroom?  Hmmm, doesn't look like it.
I was holding an electric lantern, and shining it about for signs of anything, and looked at the weird unfinished space behind the desk in the spare bedroom.  Well, as a matter of fact, it looked as if the little pieces of two by fours I had set up before had fallen down, which explained the very loud thumping noise.  Pieces of lumber falling on open wood floor will make very disturbing noises indeed.  For those of you who don't remember why there were stacked two by fours behind the desk in the unfinished space with the water heater in the spare bedroom, I will refresh your memory!
A couple weeks ago or so, when Jessica and I chased woodrat#2 around and attempted to catch him, the slippery little devil ran up the stairs and into the spare bedroom into the unfinished space.  It's actually only a few feet wide, because it's the area behind where the bathroom wall cuts into the spare bedroom, so I was able to use a big piece of cardboard tucked behind the desk to seal off the space.  Since we wanted to catch the woodrat and not just seal him off, I built a little ramp from stacked two by fours that were sitting in there to give woodrat a way to get out of the space, but since it led up to the desk and then he would have to jump down from the desk to go anywhere, he wouldn't have a way back in to elude our capture attempts. 
SO, ANYWAY, it was this two by four ramp that had fallen down.  I turned on the crawlspace light, and, sitting in the corner, was a very confused woodrat.  he/she just kind of sat there and looked at me, as if to say "I was minding my own business climbing on a nice piece of wood that looked like it led to fun interesting places and then it fell down all of a sudden and I was so confused and then a giant monster came and turned on all the bright lights and I can't see and what on EARTH IS GOING ON?!"
He sat there long enough for me to call J in and admire the little troublemaker, but soon after that he decided that all the staring and pointing and commenting on the cuteness of his furry tail was really too much attention and ran away back into a hidey-hole.  I put a live trap kinda wedged in there so when he comes back it will seem to be a most exciting place to investigate, and we'll see if we have any luck this time. 


I wasn't even finished with my morning coffee when Thayer looked out the window and informed me that we had cows in our backyard.  So on went the scarf, hat, and shoes.  We managed to get the two cows and two calves (big ones, not too young) out the gate without too much problem, except for when the cows decided to run over to the stream to get a drink of water.

On our way back, I noticed some new scat (i.e. poop) on our front porch.  Thayer had given me the Petersen's Guide to Animal Tracks (including footprints and scat), so I broke it out and started identifying our mystery poop.

This one appears to be porcupine scat.

Here's a closeup of one of them.

And this, which we found around the side of the cabin, is most likely mule deer poop.


[T - identifying animal poop is a rather ambiguous experience]
And Thayer and I have been trying our hands at carving shawl pins (for the shawls I knit).  Here are some of them.  The top two were carved by Thayer, and the bottom one by me.

A close-up of my pin.

[T- my pins didn't earn closeups, due to camera control bias]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yesterday, we woke up to low hanging clouds, brisk wind (gusts up to 45 mph), and rain.

And this morning, the mountain was covered in snow!  We're still getting some snow flurries now.

We have a little bit of news of happenings from Tuesday.  At 8, we met John at the lab at gathered up supplies for tending the weather station.  We hiked up a little hill to the weather station, which is a small white box of a building with all sorts of instruments sticking off the top.  The procedure took about 2.5 hours and included collecting a bucket full of last week's precipitation.  Thayer and I will be alternating weeks with John throughout the winter, and it will be quite an adventure once more snow starts piling in.

[T- it's kind of fun; there's lots of writing down things and looking at instruments.  I'm sure the charm will wear off as the novelty does, but it's kinda cool that we're one of the few places that maintains these weather stations during the winter too.  Apparently most of them close down with the snow]

So we got back to Gates cabin around 10:30 and had breakfast and read, enjoying the nice weather.  Around 2 pm, I was looking out the bedroom window when I noticed a few cows on RMBL property across the street.  I informed Thayer, and we started getting ready to head down to chase them out.  I was filling a glass of water when . . . blurb blurb spurt . . . our water shut off.  With further impetus to head down the hill, we laced up our shoes and headed down.  Billy was already in the midst of trying to shoo the 4 cows and we joined him.  It wasn't nearly as bad as last time and was over relatively quickly.  When we told billy about the water not working, he walked us over to the pump house.  For some reason, the pump had gone off, and a manual reset started it working just fine.  Unfortunately, since our cabin is up on a hill, if the pump goes off, the water drains away from us.  Our water has been working fine since then, so it doesn't seem like anything serious happened (a pipe leak, out of water, or broken pump).