For Memorial Day weekend this year we did one of the things we love best: head out into the woods. I had been waiting for this weekend like a little kid thinking about Christmas, jittery and overwhelmingly excited. Two reason this weekend felt so special, it was our first time full-on backpacking since leaving Alaska and my dad was coming with us. And the trip certainly lived up to my expectations!
We made a plan to head north and hike the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, which, ironically, we learned about while traveling through Canada last summer. After a little reasearch, it was clear that the 30 mile West Rim Trail would be our route for exploring the “grand canyon,” otherwise known as Pine Creek Gorge.
Fortunately, Pine Creek Outfitters, a local guide and rental shop, offers a shuttle service for backpackers so we could do the trip in one straight shot with no back tracking, ideal hiking. So after a three-hour drive, we parked our car at the north trailhead, hopped on the shuttle and headed south. We hit the trail just after 1PM and managed to pack in 10 miles before we made camp for the night. It was a strong push to start our weekend!
The first ten miles slowly rise to the ridge and include meandering streams with baby waterfalls, thick waves of fern undergrowth, and a mix of pines and deciduous trees. It felt great to be out in the woods and the weather was perfect, cool with a light breeze to keep the bugs at bay. We also got our first glimpse of the gorge. Although the vista’s get better as you head north, even on our first day you could see the curving, thick-green walls of the gorge mounded on both sides of Pine Creek. It is vastly different then the true Grand Canyon, but certainly beautiful in its own right.
My favorite vista on the first day was just north of our little campsite and we could see the rapids of the creek, the Tom Sawyer-like islands that speckled the gorge, and the sun just touching the top line of trees in a milky-orange. It was a perfect cap to the day and set the stage for a great dinner around the campfire.
Day two we completed the middle, and longest, leg of our journey, leaving us with a quick six miles for the final day. One of the best parts of day two was our lunch vista. The vista was the first place that really allowed us to see north up the gorge and we had a blast watching canoers and kayakers try to navigate the rapids far below us. We even got out the binoculars for a closer look. One guy lost a paddle and had to jump out of his canoe to get it back. It was a day of enjoying the peaceful way light filters through the leaves of trees making a polka dot-pattern on the trail and, once again, great weather!
Our second campsite, again we had the place to ourselves, was right along a creek and a waterfall rushed behind our head all night. Greatest white noise ever! Another campfire and cards and quiet. There is nothing like sinking into the woods so deeply you forget about the fast pace of everyday life. Instead, you eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired and spend your day looking out because everything happens and exists independent of you. It is almost a relief to be so insignificant in the face of nature.
Our final day, an easy, short (6 miles- everything is relative!), mostly downhill, light-pack kind of hike, brought the best views of the trip. The trees gave way to vista after vista that allowed us to see the rim we had just hiked and north to a place we wouldn’t set foot on. It made the gorge feel large and deep in a way I hadn’t yet felt. I almost wanted to slow down, to make it last a little longer. I think we all did.
Last weekend we finally made the long-talked about trip to Ricketts Glenn State Park. A full day of much-needed hiking. What is so special about this particular state park is the Falls Trail. This loop trail showcases 21 waterfalls in about 7 miles! It is the kind of trail you hike slowly because around each corner is another spectacular view.
The trail follows two branches of Kitchen Creek that have cut a snaking gorge before reuniting at Waters Meet. The falls vary from wide cascading layers to sheer movie-like drops and range in height from 11-94 feet. What I liked most about the trail is the diversity. It is hard to imagine that water can drop and twist in so many different, beautiful ways. I also loved the sound: the rushing water came in thunders and a low bass-like thrum and light rain-splattered curves. A constant symphony.
I wish there had been fewer people, but otherwise, it was just what we needed to kick off a summer of hiking.
Happy Trails for Memorial Day Weekend!
Yikes, I really fell off the blogging map this spring. I am going to blame a combination of rainy weather and one too many irons in the fire, but I am happy to say it is green and pretty in Carlisle, and I am ready to get back to adventuring!
And it seems appropriate that my first post back is all about beautiful things: butterflies and blown glass. Last week, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with family and during my visit I went to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It is a place that holds both nostalgia and excitement for me. The nostalgia comes from my time working as a volunteer in the butterfly garden every Sunday during one summer break in college. I was quiet, and a little awkward, and loved escorting people through the double door system (to keep the butterflies in) and watching their faces ripple with wonder as the small, striking creatures took flight in front of them, sprinkled through the air like tiny drops of fairy dust.
That summer, I also helped release newly hatched butterflies into the garden, delicately pinching their wings between my fingers and freeing them with the quick flick of my wrist. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something unique and beautiful. Now when I visit, I get that wonderful feeling of returning to a special place that has changed, yet somehow still feels familiar in just the right kind of way.
Stepping back through the double doors on this trip, I was amazed to see so many butterflies in one place. Instead of being sprinkled through the air, as I remember, the butterflies coated the room like stars across a night sky. The air seemed to vibrate with them. We spun in circles watching them land, feed, and spring to the air again. Some flew in tight groups, like swirling leaves, while others dipped and glided alone. A little girl near us held out her hand and one landed, perched on her finger like a snowflake, gone before she had time to breathe. It felt almost magical.
In addition to the butterflies, the conservatory is also speckled with Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass artwork, which only adds to the swept away feeling of stepping into the gardens. Originally part of a visiting exhibit, some of the Chihuly pieces where purchased by the Friends of the Conservatory, a private nonprofit group, to remain as a permanent collection. Every time I see his work I find myself in awe. The glass seems to embrace art and nature and color all in one breathe.
My favorite piece is a bright red and yellow, twisting sculpture set in the Pacific Island Water Garden, which also happens to be the home of the butterflies. The piece seems to rise out of the green like a volcano and the butterflies have taken to it as their own personal resting place. It is a combination of my two favorite parts of the conservatory: a swirling, spinning, quiet reminder of all things bold and bright.
I think I still have butterflies on the brain!
Last weekend, Lucas and I spent the day wandering through the battlefields of Gettysburg. This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle, and yet, I still found myself holding my breath and whispering as we walked across the fields of a place where so many people died. It is somehow amazing and horrifying and real.
It was nice to be there during off-season. Often we found ourselves alone or mostly alone on the various stops, and we were free to read every sign as quietly and slowly as we wished. And from the observation towers we could stand and look, unobstructed, for miles in every direction until the constant gusts of chilly wind forced us down.
My favorite places in Gettysburg are Little Round Top and Devils Den. A section of the battlefield that stretches from the rocky hill-top to a catacomb of boulders that served as an outpost for snipers during the battle. Some of the stone walls the soldiers built for cover on Little Round top are still there, making the ghost of the past that much more real. And Devils Den still feels as damp and narrow and cryptic as I imagine it did so many years ago, even with children (and adults) slithering through the cracks and crevices once inhabited by soldiers.
But the place that makes me the quietest, and the saddest, is the field were Pickett’s Charge took place. As I look out at the exposed, dry-grass of a naked field slowly rising to the high-water mark of the battle on Cemetary Ridge, all I can imagine is fear. How impossible it must have felt to walk out onto that field as the Union artillery rained down. Over 6,000 confederate soldiers died trying to cross this field, and it became the turning point of the battle, and most agree, the war. What a strange combination to face in this little Pennsylvania town.
I have a bit of a foodie crush on Julia Child. Maybe it is the dipping cadence of her voice, or her role as woman in the industry, or her height, or the fact that she loved bread and worked with Raymond Calvel, one of bakings greats. Whatever the reason, I get really excited when I come across something that lets baking and Julia Child collide. And these croissants are it!
I will admit, making croissants had me a little nervous. All the folding and butter, I was afraid I would end up with flat, pathetic blobs. But, I didn’t. They turned out great. Light and flakey…not perfect, but we loved eating every last one. It takes time, the first day is all about letting the dough rest, the second day your rolling-pin becomes your best friend, but it was fun and challenging and rewarding. A perfect way to spend a gray winter weekend. Not exactly, healthy, but everyone deserves a Julia Child inspired treat once in a while. So, treat yourself to a fabulous breakfast for dinner kind of day!
Adapted from From Julia’s Kitchen by Julia Child
What You Need:
3 tablespoons tepid water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup tepid milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 to 7 ounces (1 to 1 3/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter
In a small bowl mix the yeast, water and sugar. Blend the milk and oil with the yeast mixture.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture. Mix until well combined, then turn it out onto your floured work surface.
Let it rest for a few minutes, then knead until the dough feels smooth and begins to draw back into shape when pushed out during kneading. You’ll probably need a dusting of flour during kneading, but try not to add too much.
Put the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Set aside until the dough has tripled in size, about 3 hours.
After the first rise, turn the dough out on a floured surface and fold it over a few times. Then put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured plate, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerator overnight.
Take the butter out of the refrigerator and beat it with a rolling-pin to soften it so you can spread it. (This is a bit messy.) Do this quickly so it doesn’t get warm. Scrape the butter up with a dough scraper, fold it over, and whack it again if needed to get it soft. You can use the palm of your hand.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Roll it into an 14×8 inch rectangle and spread the butter over 2/3 of the dough. Fold the uncovered third over the buttered center, then fold the other side, like folding a brochure.
Lightly flour the dough, and roll it into a 10×16 inch rectangle. Fold it into thirds like you did before (no additional butter). Flour the dough, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 45 minutes.
Take it out of the refrigerator and roll it into a 10×16 rectangle. Fold in thirds as before. Then roll and fold one last time.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Prepare two baking sheets.
Roll the dough to a rectangle about 20×5 inches. Cut it in half and return half to the refrigerator. Roll the half you’re working with to about 15×5 inches. Cut it into thirds so you have three 5×5 pieces.
Cut your 5×5 piece diagonally into two triangles. Stretch the base with your fingers and roll the triangle toward the tip. Bend the two ends to form the curve of the crescent.
Place the roll on the prepared baking sheet. Continue until all the dough has been cut and rolled (makes 12).
Cover the baking sheets and let the croissants rise until they have tripled in size, about 2 hours. They should feel puffy and light.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Brush the croissants with the egg wash and then bake at 475 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes and serve.
Adapted from Cookistry.
I have been doing a lot of reflect over the last few days and it seems fitting: It’s a new year. I added another notch in my birthday belt two weeks ago, and it is my 100th blog post on becominganomad. I am still having a hard time believing that it has been over a year and a half since I started blogging our first days in Alaska, and it seems even harder to believe that since then we have camped, hiked, backpacked, and eaten our way across the country to our new home in PA. I still get misty-eyed when I think of Alaska, so it seems fitting that today as I reflect on the last year, and this blog, that I have snow on the brain.
I smile to think that in elementary school I was one of the only kids who always voted winter my favorite season, and it carries over to today (although fall is creeping up there at a very close second). Something about being able to see your breath and boots and snow days and forts created out of piles of snow and the way the world transforms in white has always left me breathless. I still press my nose to the cold window glass near the end of fall wishing for snow. Lots of snow.
As you get older snow has more practical consequences, like shoveling and tough driving, but I still can’t seem to help myself. I will always wish for snow. I love the way the world looks when it snows. Suddenly everything is different: brighter, quieter, cleaner. It is almost like a fresh start.
This winter (in stark contrast to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Alaska) I feel as if I am playing hide-and-go-seek with snow. It is teasing me. It appears, bright-white, wet, and heavy, blanketing the street and the trees, only to melt into clumps of gray, crusty-chunks bunched in piles near my car. Everything melts too fast for me to sink into the quiet of snow.
It seems strange to still be heading out to walk in just a fleece. Like spring. Snow transitioning to ice and disappearing all around. The walking path a sheet of crumpled glass. The creek near our house running deep, cold, and clear. The broken edges of a snow pile giving way to green. Although I am missing the depth and scope and beauty of a pure winter, lately, I have also been enjoying the battle. Here and gone and in-between.
But, I still have my fingers crossed for piles and piles of snow. Don’t be mad folks that are ready for winter to be over
Cheers to snow and the new year and a 100 more adventures to come!
It is a perfect week for soup: gray, rainy, and the kind of wet-cold that makes you want to stay in bed all day long. So last night we tried a new soup that has been sitting on my pinterest board for months, and it is a total winner! I must admit, I love pretty much any soup that involves cheese, and Lucas and I have been on a cauliflower kick, so this seemed like a good match. What I loved about this soup, beyond the way it made our house smell, was the depth of flavor even with so few ingredients. I think roasting the cauliflower helps make the flavors so robust and, of course, I added a little extra cheese, which never hurts. Overall, it was a perfect, warm, cozy soup for a cold, rainy night. How I wish it had been snow instead! Still keeping my fingers crossed for a white Christmas.
Happy Apocalypse Day! And enjoy the soup
Roasted Cauliflower and White Cheddar Soup
Adapted from Closet Cooking