Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ptarmigan Lakes Backpack

Ptarmigan Lakes via Tonga Ridge and Fisher Lake – ~15.5 mi, ~2000 ft gain

Tonga Ridge TrailIt had been a number of years since my last backpacking trip, and I was itching to go, so I pestered Mike until he went and bought a pack and sleeping bag, and off we went.

It wasn’t without risk. A bunch of our gear was new (including water filter and GPS), and the plan was “I think there’s a trail that goes to this lake, and there should be one campsite at either this one or the other.” Add a forecast of cold weather with possible rain, and there was definitely potential for a miserable weekend. But everything ended up working out beautifully.

Mike had suggested that we do one of the standard lake day hikes as an overnight, which I almost immediately vetoed. I find that sort of elevation gain to be hard enough without a pack, and I find carrying a pack hard enough without the masses of day hikers scooting around me on a trail. And those also tend to be crowded. So I opened up my Wild Sky book and started looking for candidates.

Mount SawyerThe Tonga Ridge trail emerged as the winner. It’s a pretty easy hike because it starts at a high elevation. 3 miles and 500 feet of elevation gain to Sawyer Pass and the first available campsites, in case things did end up being harder than we expected. But past the official trail, there was Fisher Lake at 5 miles, Upper and Lower Ptarmigan Lakes around 7 miles, and a slew of trips past that if we felt ambitious: Terrace Lakes, climbing Terrace Mountain to Lake Clarice and Marmot Lake, etc. In the end, we didn’t end up going for the side trips, not even the 700 feet up Mount Sawyer near the beginning of the trail (too overcast for good views) because the solitude we found at Lower Ptarmigan Lake had us content to rest there for two nights. Huckleberries!

But first we had to get there. We grumbled up the slight uphill at the beginning of Tonga – Mike was carrying a 40 lb pack and I was carrying 30 – but cheered up a little at the sight of wildflowers (well, I did, anyway). As we got closer to Sawyer Pass, we started to notice berries along the trail. At the pass, there were fields of huckleberry plants with trails going through them. A nice snack along the way. :)

Fisher LakeAfter the official trail ended, the hiking got a little rougher. There was one segment that was pretty steep and slightly muddy, without great foot holds. The trail also split several times, and we ended up taking the route that went over the highest point in the area, a mistake that we definitely avoided on the return trip. A few drops of rain had begun to fall as well. Finally, we made it to Fisher Lake. It didn’t look particularly spectacular with the overcast skies, but there were a number of empty campsites. We encountered a party of two that was occupying one of the better sites there. Mike wanted to drop his pack and camp there, but I passively rejected this suggestion by “looking for more campsites” until we were no longer at the lake. It wouldn’t have been a bad place to spend the night, but I knew there was more.

Boulder FieldOkay, so I suck as a trail finder. We followed something of a trail for a short distance, then lost it. And essentially bushwhacked half of a mile or so, using the GPS to affirm that we were indeed heading towards a lake. Mike was getting pretty annoyed at me at this point, and the final straw was the giant boulder field we traversed at the end, which apparently was completely avoidable because there was a trail that went through the woods next to it. Oops.

Lower Ptarmigan Lake

Tuna & Green Bean Casserole

Tuna & Green Bean Casserole

Yeah, I know it doesn’t look quite as appealing as some of my other food pictures. The food is a day old, plopped into a Tupperware container and ready to head to work. But I combined recipes to form this one, so I figure perhaps it’s worthwhile to post the recipe. It’s not all that original – it’s a variation on the traditional green bean casserole – but I couldn’t find this exact recipe (using tuna and fresh green beans) anywhere else. My inspiration was that I had 2.5 pounds of green beans in my fridge and needed to use up a bunch of them fast.

Tuna & Green Bean Casserole
serves 4

1 lb fresh green beans, stems removed and cut into 1.5” pieces
2 5oz cans of tuna
3oz French fried onions (or more if you are like me and eat them as you go)
8 buttery crackers (like Ritz or Club), crushed
1 10oz can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup sour cream
splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste

1. Steam green beans to partially cook them. I do this in the microwave, about 2.5-3 minutes for crisp beans in the casserole. Use longer time if you like them soft like canned ones. Run cold water over the beans to cool them slightly.

2. In a 9x9 baking dish, mix the beans, cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, milk, and salt & pepper. Add tuna, fried onions, and crackers.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until done.


Friday, August 27, 2010

There's a place downtown where the horses come around

The September Anthropologie catalog came out and I am in love. Since I love horses, perfect, isn't it? So this post is inspired by the equestrian love of the September catalog. I normally have riding lessons on Thursdays, so I skipped off to my barn with thoughts of beautiful Anthropologie clothes in mind.

Okay, well, mainly boots. I have been searching for the perfect pair of boots for a year now. Too bad all of Anthro's boots are sized way too big. :( I have tiny calves and most of Anthro's boots seem to have a calf circumference of about 15 inches. Now, the Farrier Boots seem small enough. I can lace them to be as tight as I want! Except they have a $538 price tag. My wallet is shrieking in pain.

Something less painful in price are the Martingale Boots. Except - oh look, 15.5 inches of calf circumference. :( And it's also 16 inches in height. That worries me - I had a pair of boots that I tried on last year that was similar in height and I had to sell it because it kept whacking me in the back of the knee when I walked. Hrm, Jenni lives in California and most of her nearby Anthro's carry shoes. Must visit Jenni soon for shoes. :) (And her, of course!) No Anthropologie's in my entire state have shoes. Seriously, Anthro, sell shoes in Illinois. I would gladly buy a bunch. (A martingale is a piece of tack that prevents your horse from raising their head too high. There's some hanging on the wall with the bridles to the left. I'm not quite sure they remind me of the Martingale Boot, but the boot is gorgeous nonetheless.)

My barn also has a herd of ponies used for kid's pony rides and for parties. I normally don't pay too much attention to them, but today, they were gathered up in front of their gate looking for attention. They're adorable! So much cuter that the travesty that is the Poni Cardigan. (Leifsdottir, WTF were you thinking? If kids see that sweater first, they'll never go near another pony ever again.) I like how some of the reviews on the Anthro website say "It's not for me but I think if you love horses, you'll love this cardigan!" .... no ..... I don't think so.

I wasn't the only one looking at the ponies!

Two things at the very top of my wishlist right now are the Curtsey Coat and the Best of the Bunch Cardigan. I am fighting a very difficult battle right now not to buy them at full price. Did Anthro's winter coats from last year make it to sale? I'm having trouble remembering. I really, really, really hope they look horrific on me and save me money. Buying them both at full price will put me over $500. Ew. (I could also use that $500 to buy the Farrier Boots ...) Oh dear. These Anthro fall offerings are painfully good.

After snapping a bunch of pictures all around the barn, I finally went riding. And you know what I realized? If I take out my trainer screaming at me and replace it with catchy music, my flaws are harder to spot! (If you ride, yes, I know there are flaws, but it's sadly enough, the one of the best courses I've ever ridden. I'm a newbie jumper, be kind. If you don't ride, hopefully this looks somewhat impressive!) This is Posh and she's a sweetheart! She's an advanced beginner/intermediate level school horse and I'm thrilled my trainer finally moved me up to her. I love her to pieces, although my trainer keeps scoffing at me. "Never trust her," Trainer says. "She'll spook and throw you right off. Just when you're getting complacent, she'll take advantage of you. You can never assume she'll jump, always assume she'll refuse on you. She's a great horse, but she also has her days. When she's feeling it, you won't like it." Luckily, I haven't had her on one of those days yet. I keep putting her in bad situations and she keeps saving my butt and jumping like a hero, no matter how many bad distances and lack of pace I throw at her. LOVE. HER!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leftovers Flatbread

I was informed by an adamant French guy that under no circumstances was I to refer to Bakestone Brothers Naan Bread as “bread.” I don’t think the Indians would acknowledge it as naan, either. What kind of naan has holes in it? Still, I buy this stuff because it’s nicely priced, Amazon Fresh carries it, and it’s great for fixing snack pizzas when I’m too lazy to cook real food.


I had these buna shimeji mushrooms leftover from dinner I made the other day, as well as some sauce that went with the dish. That wasn’t going to be a good combination with tomato sauce, but I pictured the fancy flatbreads that restaurants serve. Why not?

forager’s flatbread
buna shimeji mushrooms, lemon chili garlic aioli, parsley, mozzarella

Not bad for what is technically “leftovers with cheese on previously frozen leavened wheat product.”


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anthropologie Tuesday Sale 'Haul' Review

Being a petite girl at 5'0, I previously thought wearing Anthropologie clothes wouldn't suit my frame. Most of their designs seem aimed towards willowy women, but from Sandy's coaxing, I found that the occasional Anthropologie top fits me relatively well. (All sizes below are XS unless indicated otherwise.)

The pink cardigan above is called, Speckled Egg Cardi, on sale for $39.95 and and is probably the first 'draping' cardigan that actually flatters my short torso. I loved the staggered, draped layers and the silk material sewn into it. Still debating if this is worth keeping, however, because I don't normally wear pink--much less anything too classically romantic in style. However, this cardigan does go well with a Burlapp top that I picked up from Ideeli.com.

Anthropologie Sale Reviews

I hit up Anthropologie today and brought my camera. Here's what came out of it:

I know immediately Jenni is going to say this is granny style. It is granny style. And yet, I like it still. I think I'm getting old. Jenni also called the Precious Materials cardigan granny-ish too, which I bought and love, so I see that I'm starting my transformation into a sweet wrinkly gentle old grandmother. I have a medium on in the picture above and it's too big, but I was too lazy to ask for a small. I love the turquoise/aqua color of the cardigan, but you know what the best part is? The navy blue satin trim. It's so incredibly soft, I could probably just play with that all day long and be happy.

Creative Outlet Tank $29.95

This is ... hrm. A very interesting picture. Sadly, it's the best one I have, so please ignore weird poofy hair and evil slant of mouth. This is the xs navy blue tank. It looks almost black in the picture, but it's not as dark in real life. Anthropologie's website says it's made out of a rayon/spandex mix, and it is so soft and comfortable on, and incredibly lightweight. Should be perfect for a hot summer day, but since summer's almost over, it should still be comfy under a cardi.


I originally grabbed this to try on because I thought it was the Falling Fleur Tank that Jenni was interested in. Come home, check out the webpage - doesn't look quite the same though. Flowers look the same, ruffles have somehow changed from cute ruffles to weird thick loops. I had to grab a small instead of xs because they were out of xs - I wonder if it looks any better if I went down a size? Meh.

Circle The Globe $39.95

So I told Jenni I bought this and she was confused as to why it was so popular. I'm not quite sure, but I can at least list the reasons why I liked it. It's decently priced for an Anthro skirt (especially on sale). It adds a nice pop of color to the bottom of my outfits - a nice change from all my other bottoms, which consists of jeans, jeans, jeans, black trousers, gray trousers, and more jeans. It's so easy to pull on with an elastic waist, which is good, since a lot of Anthro's latest skirts have exposed zippers that are really ugly. This is a size 2 but due to the elastic waist, I could probably do a 0 or a 4 as well. And it's simple! I can think of a couple ways to wear this skirt already. As opposed to ...

Stable Skirt $98.00

I like horses(see previous post)! I should be the perfect person to try this on, right? And it's much cuter than the Poni Cardigan. Except I look like a giant rectangle. I look at this photograph and see myself surrounded by a giant rectagular box. This is so comfortable on though! It's velvety soft on the outside and really nicely lined on the inside with a cool silk like type of material (don't quote me, I don't know anything about fabrics). But I look like a giant stick. I'm also not thrilled with the big brown belt loops in front. It kind of disrupts the pattern of the dress for me. This is a size 6. The waist looks tiny in person. I went for my usual size four, but I didn't think I'd be able to fit in it. The six zipped up comfortably though.

Babergh Dress $188

Ah, the Babergh dress. The current love of my life. Why is it so expensive? :( It cinches in my waist really nicely and the flowers at the shoulder don't annoy me as much as I thought they wood. This is a little big on me - it's a 4, the size 2 which I had tried on before and fit perfectly - was gone from the racks. This makes me nervous that it'll sell out before it hits sale. 63 of the size 2 left online as of this post! But I'm having trouble convincing myself that I want to pay almost two hundred dollars for this dress, especially when I don't have anywhere to wear it to. It could be a really fancy work dress. I work in IT though, so the beauty of this dress is totally wasted sitting behind a computer monitor all day. Sigh.

Sale Time! ..... at Dover Saddlery

Today's a sale day at Anthropologie too, and I have fitting room pictures, but this came into my inbox and I couldn't resist taking a peek. Sigh. I wish I owned a horse. So much pretty tack I'd like to buy! So much pretty and very expensive tack! Ouch. Maybe it's good I don't own a horse and just ride schooling horses.


Left: Tailored Sportsman Low Rise Breech (Sale $129.90)
Right: Ladies Tuff Rider Riding Breeches (Sale $36.90)

I'm aware they look similar. :)

I own the cheap Tuff Riders, but they're starting to rip at the pocket, and the knee patches are getting worn down and aren't as sticky. Still, though, for the price, they weren't too bad. I bought them probably about two years ago. I can always use another pair of cheap schooling breeches.

I've heard amazing reviews about the TS's, though, and I could use a good pair of breeches for showing. (I do own one good pair of breeches - Latigo Full Seats - but I can't wear full seats into the show ring.) Hrm, I like how I talk the talk but can't back it up. (I don't show - I can barely get around a couple of crossrails and flower boxes at lessons, so we're not going to even think about shows right now.) So if I continue to delude myself thinking that I need a good pair of pretty breeches for showing, I should invest in the TS breeches. Continuing to swim in the river of denial, I posted a pair of the pewter color breeches above, but light gray is not really smiled upon in the hunter ring. As pretty as it is, I would probably switch back to the almighty beige or khaki.


Ovation Zocks Riding Socks (Sale $7.49)

Knee high riding socks to wear with riding boots. I've been meaning to buy a pair for awhile, but haven't gotten around to it. But look at the pair on the very left! The color scheme is called Wild Horses. See, this, I need. To wear horses? While riding horses? Yes!


Don't actually need one. My current one is only about two years old and I haven't fallen on it yet. But if I were to need one .... I still would not get this, however much I would like to. This is one of the more popular helmets out there, worn by a lot of the top Grand Prix Riders: the GPA Titium Professional Riding Helmet (Sale $479.90). Ouch. I need to win the lottery first - and even then, I probably couldn't justify it to myself. But isn't it pretty?


This is admittedly just eye candy. Dover's Circuit Elite Saddle (Sale $749.00) I've never ridden in one, so I don't know how it feels or fits, but it certainly is pretty. I have a giant weakness for shiny caramel colored leather and this stock picture is just gorgeous. Doesn't it just conjure up images of a perfectly groomed horse and a preppy boarding school girl riding through a dewy field at sunrise?

I could keep going on but I don't think anyone is really interested in pictures of stirrup irons or horse boots, so I'll save you the pain. ;) I do have some Anthropologie fitting room pictures which are probably slightly more interesting than this coming up soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mount Rainier – Skyscraper Mountain


Two things you should never fully believe: the weather report and the elevation data in a hiking book.

Weather forecast: cold, rainy, and possibly snowy.

Actual weather: cold, windy, moving clouds, a bit of mist.

Trail info as reported in the book: approx. 8 mi, 1100 ft elevation gain.

Actual hiking data as reported by GPS: 9.2 mi, 2392 ft elevation gain. (Extra distance and part of the extra elevation was due to our route changes/additions, but not 1200 ft!)

Alpine Meadow

Leaving from the Sunrise lot, we took the Sourdough Ridge trail to Frozen Lake, where it starts to branch out. There are lots of possibilities from this beginning – Berkeley Park, Fremont Lookout, Burroughs Mountain, Dege Peak, etc. There’s something great for any hiking skill level. We took the Wonderland Trail from there, past the Berkeley Park turnoff, all the way to Skyscraper Mountain. Lots of pretty flower fields (perhaps a bit past their peak, but still in great shape) and views of Mount Rainier. Not a ton of people on the trail, and probably over half of the people we saw were people on multi-night backpacking trips.


I think it would be pretty hard to top the conditions during my trip to Mount Rainier last year (pics), and the overcast weather on this hike definitely made for more challenging picture taking. However, there were two things that were better: no mosquitoes (because it was so cold) and marmots! I saw no wildlife last time, and this time our group sighted about five marmots, all eating. One was so hungry that he came up really close to the trail and posed for pictures.

' It's a long way down...

There was a great viewpoint where the unofficial trail up Skyscraper Mountain branched from the Wonderland Trail. A few small groups were hanging out here, taking photos of Mount Rainier, which kept peeking in and out of the clouds. The four of us were the only ones who went up further during the time we were there. The makeshift trail (pictured: above left) up was extremely steep and rocky, with short, random switchbacks. We ate lunch at the top but didn’t stay long. It was windy and cold up there, and it was a bit scary looking so far down. We were above the low layer of clouds, and at one point, they completely engulfed the mountain, leaving us on a small rock island surrounded by pure white. Creepy!


This being the first cool weather hike of the season, I took the opportunity to try a little experiment. My dad got me a Ms. Bento jar during one of his trips to Taiwan, and I’d been itching to try it out. (I also have the Mr. Bento jar, but it’s a little big and heavy for hiking use). I packed my lunch 7 hours before eating it, and my risotto and mac & cheese were still very warm when lunch time came. Not piping hot, but warm enough. Definitely more nourishing than a cold sandwich. I think this has great potential for ski season as well!

Alpine Meadow

Overall, this hike went a lot better than I was anticipating. I think the weather forecast and the cold (it was probably 40 degrees or below for our whole trip) kept most people away, and I’m not used to Mount Rainier being a solitary experience. It’s another plus that Skyscraper Mountain isn’t listed as a trail on the map at the lodge – but definitely worth doing. There are so many hiking possibilities at Mount Rainier National Park, and I hope to return next year to explore more of them!


Mount Rainier

Glow in the dark weiner

Nina sent me this link the other day: Urban Outfitter's Dachshund Lamp ($80)

look, he glows!

Isn't he adorable? I visualize it perched on a long, lengthy dresser, slanted so that everyone can see the length of the dog. I love the dachshund silhouette, with his nose perked eagerly up into the air. Anyone who owns a dog will tell you that's the pose that says: "Food? Now? Please? Food?" Tail is a little stubby for my tastes, though. It needs to be a bit longer.

... but why is their ad showing the lamp on the ground? That thing wouldn't last three seconds before my dachshund would come over and start gnawing on the plastic, before eventually electrocuting himself as he made himself a meal out of the wires. Nom, nom. Bzzzzzzzzzt.

i gots me a nice tail

I think Cally's position as the most venerated dachshund in this house is safe, though. I'm not shelling out eighty dollars for a lamp. Especially one that is made out of (what looks to be) white plastic. (Comes in green plastic too, but I think it's pretty ugly.) Maybe if it went on sale for about eighty percent off, I'd consider it. It would be adorable!

I'd just have to remember to put up way up high where Cally couldn't eat it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Green Risotto with Fava Beans and Broccoli


There are many things I love about living in the Puget Sound area. One of them is how I can live 15 minutes from work, 15 minutes from downtown Seattle, and 15 minutes from a fully functioning farm. It means we get U-Pick fruits and veggies, great farmers markets, and another thing I had never heard of before moving here – CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture. I’m on my fourth different program – they all work a little differently – and I think this one works well for me. It’s called Growing Washington, and there are a number of reasons why I like it:

  1. Drop site close to work!
  2. They source from a number of different farms, which means a good variety in produce, but they are all local and organic. This is not a distributor who sources from Mexico.
  3. Separate fruit and vegetable boxes. I don’t like most types of fruit, so it’s difficult for me when the box includes both fruit and vegetables.
  4. Perfect size and flexibility. There’s a small size and a large size. The small size allows me to pick 8 items from each week’s list. This quantity has been perfect for me – usually I can finish everything, but it is always a little bit challenging.
  5. Inclusion of some “other items.” We usually see various types of flour and grains as well as farm-fresh eggs on the list. One week, we also had butter as an option.
  6. Heirloom varieties. I’ve particularly liked the lettuces – most of their types look like the fancy stuff you eat in restaurants, not the boring stuff you get at the store. And now heirloom tomatoes are starting.

Green RisottoTwo of the items in this week’s box, pictured above, came together to form today’s meal: Green Risotto with Fava Beans and Broccoli (slightly adapted from a recipe on AllRecipes).

I’ve made the recipe with only fava beans a few times, but I never bothered to plate it and take a picture. It’s rich and yummy, and though a bit labor intensive, it’s currently my favorite thing to do with fava beans. This time, I stuck broccoli in to use that up, too. I’m ok with the half an hour of constant stirring, but the thing about this recipe that irks me the most is having to puree half of the beans to make the risotto “green.” Having to pull out and then clean my food processor for such a small amount is annoying! Can someone buy me an immersion blender?

Behind the scenes

Risotto has been my favorite thing to cook and eat this year so far. It’s a great vegetarian dish that is heavy enough for me not to feel hungry an hour later. I’m looking forward to the fall and the risotto possibilities when winter squash and various mushrooms start being harvested.

There are plenty of recipe sites out there that give full recipes and pictures of the cooking process, but at this point, I don’t think I’m qualified enough to do that. I’m an amateur cook, and my kitchen is a mess. So click on the recipe link if you want to make the risotto. :)


Third and final intro!

Being late to the party--I'll keep this short and sweet. I dwell in the Silicon Valley area. My goal is to capture scintillating flashes of inspiring beauty here for an outlet that may inspire others. And, as all three of us are constant seeking ways to make our minds and bodies more "beautiful", I constantly seek new challenges to try to follow the castle-in-the-cloud indulgences that I pursued as a child:

  • Pretty, stylish fashions -- I like clothes with a lot of texture, struture, petals, ruffles, lace, and elegant shapes.
  • Beautiful Desserts and artistic foods -- I have a weakness for most things sugary, and if it looks as beautiful as it tastes, more the better!
  • Athletic pursuits -- Such as running, I have a goal to finish running a marathon soon-ish.
  • Architectural, landscape, flower, and creature photos -- All of us have quite some overlaps in interests :)
  • Aging gracefully -- Musing of skin care, tips, and other ideas on how not to scream when I look in the mirror!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Second post!

Hopefully we won't be titling all our posts that way. "Two hundredth and thirty second post!" is not exciting. This is, of course, assuming we make it that far.

I'm Sandy, and to copy Nina's post, I live in a suburb of Chicago, IL. I tend to like it in spring and fall and hate it in summer and winter. (I would like winter a lot more if I didn't really have to drive in it.) My life is sometimes about motion, usually spent going around in circles in an arena somewhere on a horse, but sometimes just tucked away in a quiet corner, a sweet dog on my lap, and a good book in my hands.

We probably won't be overlapping topics too much, but that's what makes the world go 'round, right? Different strokes for different people. So, here is the beauty that I seek:

  • Animals - I own a yapping loud little dachshund and I ride horses, although not very well. So I probably wouldn't term my riding as either "beauty" or "splendor." More like "splat." But I love horses and you should too.
  • Food - we live to eat or eat to live. Whatever floats your boat. Although I can't cook as well as Nina, so it's mainly other people's food, not mine. ;)
  • Fashion - I am nowhere as fashion forward as Jenni is, but I can easily lose my heart to a lovely pair of shoes, a new bag, or cute clothes. Mostly Anthropologie nowadays.
  • ... and whatever else I can think of.

First post!

Welcome to yet another blogging attempt! All three of us have been dumping so much content on Facebook and e-mail lately that Jenni proposed the idea of a blog. I agree – I think our pictures and commentary deserve a more permanent home than the transient Facebook News Feed.

2 cats are better than 1The three of us are Jenni, Nina, and Sandy. We are all software engineers of some sort. We shared an apartment during our senior year at Purdue University (with my cat, Kitty). Despite our separate geographic locations now, we’ve kept in touch really well throughout the years, and we try to meet up at least once a year for a "Girltrip." I’ll let the others do their separate introductions.

Me – I am Nina. I live in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, and I love it here. My life is about motion. I’m always traveling around, trying something new.

The beauty I pursue (and what you will probably see me writing about):

  • Gleaming, turquoise alpine lakes – hikes in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Food – both in restaurants and things I cook at home.
  • Inner peace – yoga, meditation.
  • New places – traveling around the world.
  • …and probably much more!

Look forward to sharing my little musings. :)