Sunday, December 9, 2018

TMB Day 6: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly

Day Six
July 22, 2018

Starting point: Rifugio Bonatti, Italy
Ending point: La Fouly, Switzerland
Distance: 13 miles
Height gain: 3301 feet
High point: Grand Col Ferret (8323 feet)
Lunch: Rifugio Elena
Accommodation: Maya Joie

Just as we were getting used to saying “Buon giorno” and “Grazie,” we realized that we needed to go back to saying “Bonjour” and “Merci.” Today we were crossing the Italian-Swiss border at the Grand Col Ferret. It was an exciting prospect, but we knew that we’d miss Italy so much. The views and the culinary scene were pretty much unparalleled, in retrospect. We made sure to budget some time to enjoy one last meal in Italy during lunch, though we had quite a long day ahead of us. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

TMB Day 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti

Day Five
July 21, 2018

Starting point: Courmayeur, Italy
Ending point: Rifugio Bonatti
Distance: 7.9 miles
Height gain: 3691 feet
High point: Tete de la Tronche (8478 feet)
Lunch: Rifugio Bertone
Accommodation: Rifugio Bonatti

Our rest day in Courmayeur was over, and it was time to hit the trail again.  For that whole day, we did not use the stairs even once - nope, not one downward or upward step was taken in excess.  With pomp and circumstance, we rode the elevator down (at first the door wouldn’t close because apparently our packs were so large that they obstructed the sensor) to start this fourth leg of our trek.  It’s always a little bit hard to get started for the day, whether we’re coming out of a mountain refuge or an actual city, but today it was much harder because we had just had the most indulgent and relaxing time in Italy. On top of that, it looked like it actually was going to rain, so we stuck our umbrellas and rain jackets on the outer pockets of our packs.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Leaf Peeping & Lake Spotting

Per Wikipedia, "leaf peeping" is an informal term in the United States for the activity in which people travel to view and photograph the fall foliage in areas where leaves change colors in autumn, particularly in northern New England and the upper Midwest.  Well, we were able to do this (and join many other "leaf perverts", as Wes likes to call them) right here in California, just a six-hour drive up our favorite freeway, the 395.  It's really quite amazing - fields of gold are literally hidden in between the mountains, found only if you follow narrow, winding roads into specific destinations.  With the help of Mono County Tourism's website, we knew exactly where to go to gain entrance to the year's most exclusive peepshow.  The leaves turn sexy shades of yellow and orange, the meadows are golden, the lakes sparkle and flash, and we were lucky enough to be treated to a light snowstorm that created a dramatic backdrop to it all.  Depending on a variety of natural factors (i.e. elevation, weather, type of tree), the leaves change quite quickly, so there's only a four-week window to catch these views each year. is diligently updated every Wednesday (by some leaf pervert, no doubt) with viewing conditions.  I guess there are a lot of people out there who come to the Eastern Sierra at this time of year just for the Fall colors!

So the true intention of the trip wasn't even to see the changing leaves, even though I do have a huge soft spot for Fall colors.  We actually had a backcountry permit booked for that weekend to through-hike a trail out of Mammoth, but the weather took a huge dip (26 degrees Fahrenheit at night!) and there was snow in the, we packed a ton of extra blankets in the car and opted to get a walk-in campsite and do some day-hikes rather than going backpacking.  Snuggling under our heavy down comforter and huddling by the campfire with hearty, fresh food sounded way more ideal.

You really can never go wrong in the Eastern Sierra, ever.  It felt like we had truly experienced the transition from Fall to Winter firsthand!  We did a few good hikes and also ate a ton of good ole American comfort food: tacos, pizza, wings, burgers, ice cream, pasta, sandwiches, ice cream, and pho.  Ice cream was in there twice, not by mistake.  It was another trip for the books, for sure.

Day 1:  Little Lakes Valley to Gem Lakes

Day 2:  Lundy Canyon Trail

Day 3:  Ruby Lake via Morgan Pass

Complete food list: Anthony's Grill in Mojave, Tacos Los Hermanos in Lone Pine, Schat's Bakery in Mammoth, Black Velvet Coffee in Mammoth, Subway in Mammoth, Mono Cone in Lee Vining, Giovanni's in Mammoth, Bishop Burger Barn in Bishop, Good Earth Yogurt in Bishop, our campsite

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

TMB Day 4: Resting and Digesting in Courmayeur

Day Four
July 20, 2018

Starting point: Courmayeur, Italy
Ending point: Courmayeur, Italy
Distance: 0 miles
Height gain: 0 feet
High point: 3rd floor of Hotel Edelweiss
Lunch: Le Vieux Pommier
Accommodation: Hotel Edelweiss

An inconspicuous sign at the top of the Col de la Seigne on Day 3 indicated that we had walked from France into Italy.  On the TMB trail, it was not immediately noticeable that we had crossed a national border besides the fact that people started saying "Buongiorno" rather than "Bonjour," but the moment we sat down to eat our first meal at the Rifugio Elisabetta was the moment we realized that we were definitely in Italia!  The Italians do not mess around with food - they are dead serious about what they put on the table.  As if we weren't already dying of happiness from the polenta, pizza, and cured meat plate from Day 3, the following "rest day" in Courmayeur turned into a gastronomic exploration into the cuisine of the Aosta Valley.  Courmayeur is a small Alpine resort town in northwest Italy, nestling at the foot of Mont Blanc in a region known as the Aosta Valley.  It ain't Rome, Venice, or Florence, but this town is somewhat of a hidden treasure with a vibrant local culture all its own.  We were really grateful to have a full day to relax and basically eat our way through Courmayeur after three very tough first days on the TMB.  Despite being a very small town, Courmayeur has so much to offer, with its intimate alpine atmosphere, its charming cobblestone streets, and those quaint yet exotic Fiat Panda Four-by-Four's.   In between snoozing and feasting, we learned so much about Italian culture in the just-over one day that we spent there.  

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Once Upon A Mooncake...

We both grew up with the tradition of eating Cantonese-style mooncakes (月餅) around this time each year, to symbolize the Mid-Autumn Festival.  Like all other Lunar-calendar-based holidays, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on a different day every year.  The only reliable cue of its arrival is the appearance of mooncakes for sale at the Asian grocery stores.  I'm not sure how our parents decided on which ones to buy - there were so many different kinds, and they all look equally gorgeous to me. But one thing is for sure: our parents never bothered (or dared) to make these themselves. So, when Wes told me that he wanted to attempt this task, I knew that it would be a beast. He knew too, but when does this guy ever back down from a complicated cooking challenge?

Mooncakes consist of a thin, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling, and may contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in their center as the symbol of the full moon. They're intricately imprinted with floral patterns and characters representing longevity, harmony, etc.  I must be getting old, but I think that the ones from the store are extremely sweet, quite oily, and full of suspicious preservatives.  I figured that making them ourselves would give us control over all of those elements and some creative freedom. I have always fantasized of matcha-flavored mooncakes, so we experimented with that. I also do not like to eat the chalky and overly salty egg yolks, so I developed a recipe for a faux egg yolk using kabocha squash, which uncannily bears the same color.

This process was not without bumps in the road.  Sometimes, potholes.  It was almost impossible to find golden syrup. The black sesame filling did not come together. We hadn't thought of pre-soaking the red beans overnight.  We needed to find a spray bottle.  The coconut oil that we bought was not correct (should have bought virgin coconut oil, not filtered).  The kitchen scale was running low on batteries.  Conversions, fractions, division, multiplication, subtraction, plain old addition, and keeping track of all of those measurements... my brain was going to explode.  Our first batch turned out great-looking, but bad-tasting.  Our second batch turned out bad-looking, but great-tasting.  And our final batch turned out just right, thank the Lord.

And so begins the weeklong saga of stumbling our way through learning how to make our own mooncakes.