Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 9: Yellowstone National Park

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Bozeman MT to Yellowstone National Park. 85 miles,  1 hour 52 minutes. 

We planned to spend a few days in Yellowstone so we stocked up on some goods in Gardiner, MT before heading over the state line and into the park. Our first photo op was when we crossed the 45th parallel.

We drove further into the park and quickly arrived at Mammoth Village. This was far and away the most well established village we had seen in a National Park. There was some very nice architecture, and apparently most of it was designed and built by the US Army while they managed the park - starting in 1886 and finishing in 1918 - 32 years later.  Just on the outskirts of the settlement was Mammoth Hot Springs - the first of many alien landscapes we saw in Yellowstone

After leaving the Hot Springs we headed south to our campground - which was about 35 miles away. Its hard to put it into perspective just how massive Yellowstone is - but the entire park is set up (more-or-less) in a large figure 8. There are things to see virtually everywhere. One could spend quite a long time there and only see a fraction of the park. We were taking the Cliffs Notes approach as we wanted to see a lot in a short period of time. After we set up our tent site we went further south to Old Faithful Village to see….you guessed it, Old Faithful. As silly as it seems - especially considering the quantity of geysers we saw all throughout the park - I love checking quintessential American Road Trip things like this (and Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, etc..) off the list, no matter how corny they are. 

We waited about 30 minutes before it started going off. It was right around golden hour so it was nice. There was a coyote stalking the area looking for food. The site is set up like an amphitheater, the geyser taking center stage, with bench seating nearly surrounding it on all sides. 

The sun was starting to set around this time so we started making our way back to the campground. We stopped at Black Sand Basin on the way and took a walk along the raised boardwalk - while we were engulfed in steam from the hot water, hearing animals in the distance, and water boiling out of the ground. It was truly surreal.

The next day we got an early start and methodically saw a lot of the park. Theres not a whole lot to say other than it is incredibly beautiful and moving and very unique. Some of the things we saw:
Grand Prismatic Springs
A crystal clear, so deep you can't see the bottom, hot spring - somewhere in the park
A geyser hole (?), and many other in the background, giving off steam.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Water, colored presumably by the abundance of sulfur - somewhere in the park.
There was an incredible amount of wildlife in the park - we saw Foxes, Coyotes, Wolves, American Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, and probably more that I am forgetting. Bison will often cross the road in packs, bringing traffic to a stand still while they're so close to you you can hear them breathing.

Bison, from the car
Big horn sheep, going up - from the car.
Bison, from the car. 
Bison, on the edge of a parking lot - I think this was in Old Faithful Village.
Elk, grazing on the lawns in Mammoth Village
At our campground we noticed the couple across the way from us had a large cat they were walking on a harness - which is something J always talks about wanting to do with our future pet. They noticed us gawking and came over to say, 'Hi'. 

Looking kind of pissed off
We wound up spending most of the evening and night with them. It turns out they own a candy shop on the coast a little north of Seattle. They, too, enjoy traveling by car and were on an extended trip of their own. They were taking the same route (Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons) as we were but were a few days behind us. After a while we realized that they ordered chocolates from a chocolatier in Hico, TX - who I also know. The weirdest part about this is why I know him. On a similar trip I took in my early twenties, I randomly (and I do mean randomly) stopped in Hico, TX because of a Billy the Kid statue I noticed while driving through. We got out and walked around a bit, met 3 elderly people driving around the country who envied us to camp by their camper that night. We had dinner with them, traded stories - and this wound up being one of the most memorable travel experiences I have had. Fast forward maybe 5 years, I am starting school in Chicago and I find out a classmate is from Hico. Since Hico is in central texas, off any major road, and has a population of about 1,300 - I made it a point to get to know her and let her know that I had been to Hico before and knew it. After graduating school in Chicago, I was driving around the country again - and wound up in Hico again to visit my friend, who worked for this chocolatier - who I also met then. I love when serendipitous things like this happen. What are the odds that we would be in Hico, originally? That I would see that statue, and have enough interest to stop? That we would randomly meet other travelers and stay? That someone I goto school with half a decade later happens to be from there and I learn that? And then that a couple I meet 1500 miles away from it who order chocolates for their candy store from this particular chocolatier. Blows my mind.  

Lake Yellowstone
We eventually got to Lake Yellowstone where we exited the park and headed to the Grand Tetons.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the Tetons, which were almost comically beautiful. J had caught a cold camping in 15 F weather the night before. We drove through to Jackson, grabbed a hotel room, ordered some food and picked up some cold medicine. We spent the night watching TV. 

Best breakfast.
The next day we grabbed breakfast at the Virginian Restaurant which was awesome - perfect diner breakfast. I still think about it today. We headed back to the park and saw some of the sights, but any hiking was off the table because of J's cold (which was pretty bad at this point). Some of the highlights:

A phallic lake
I believe this is Jenny Lake, but Im not 100%. It was crystal clear, you could see very large fish swimming around in it. 
J's condition was worsening, so we decided we were going to start heading to Salt Lake City, where her aunt lives and had finally returned home. The drive from Jackson to Idaho Falls was incredibly beautiful - winding along the Snake River for a good portion of it. We grabbed dinner (tacos) when we got to Idaho Falls (our second time here on the trip - we grabbed gas here on the way to Butte). We found a Walmart and turned in for the night.

I enjoyed the tacos here!

Up next: SALT LAKE CITY, and maybe more?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 8: Montana

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Day 34:

Grand Junction, CO to Butte, MT. 698 Miles, 10 Hours 7 Minutes. 

Approaching the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana
We noticed that the weather was clearing up a bit from the North to the South and then getting crappy again, so we made a plan to essentially flip our itinerary around and head straight to Glacier National Park, then back south through Yellowstone, The Tetons, and then to Salt Lake City. This required that we make a nice marathon drive from Grand Junction to Glacier, which we broke up into two days. Our destination for the night was a Walmart in Butte, Montana. It was a the coldest night yet.

Day 35: 
Butte, MT to Glacier National Park West Glacier, MT. 295 Miles, 5 hours, 14 minutes. 

We left Butte as early as possible, as we wanted to get to Glacier with some time to see some of the park before dark. We took a bit of a round about way to get there because we wanted to see Flathead Lake on the way, and I did not realize that the route we were taking would by-pass it. This added about a hour to the trip. We weren't sure of what would be available at or just outside of the park because it was the very end of the season there - so we made a pit stop at a Safeway in Missoula, which seemed like kind of a neat town. 

As we got to Glacier we decided we would drive as much of Going-The-Sun-Road as possible, knowing that it was closed somewhere along the way because of avalanche danger. The first stop was on the shore of Lake McDonald, which was the first of many breath-taking, dramatic landscapes we saw in the Park.
On the shore of Lake McDonald
The absolutely crystal clear water in Lake McDonald
The drive slowly ramps up, quite literally, starting through some dense forest, with Lake McDonald to one side. But quickly it begins to open up and suddenly you are switchbacking up the side of a mountain and peering down into glacial valleys below.

Notice the road in down the center of the valley
We drove about 33 miles to Logan's Pass, where there was a visitors center. The road was closed heading further east, so we stopped here for a minute to look around. There was a storm moving in and Rangers were asking people to head back down at this point.

At Logans Pass
It began to snow while we were at Logan's Pass - the first we experienced on the trip. We headed back into West Glacier, where we grabbed a nice dinner at the Belton Chalet. After dinner, rather than pay for a camp site in Glacier, we drove an hour west to Kalispell, MT where we spent the night in a Walmart parking lot. Before we went to sleep we thumbed through our Parks of the West book to figure out a list of things we wanted to do while in Glacier the next day.

One of the stunning views from Going-The-Sun-Road
Day 36:
I loved how different the forest here felt compared to what we were used to further south in the Rockies and in the Northeast. 
When we got up there was a dusting of snow on the ground, and we realized that our plans high in the mountains may change. As we got into the park there were signs up saying the road was closed only a few miles from the entrance. We were very lucky to have seen as much of the park as we did the night before, but now we had to reassess our plans for the day. We decided to make the 4.5 mile hike up to Avalanche Lake, as there wasn't really any snow at this elevation and the weather was actually quite nice considering a few miles up the road there was a foot of snow.

The start of the trail to Avalanche Lake.

We enjoyed the trail as we made our way up. It was pretty uncrowded, probably because of the weather. We encountered a few flurries on the way up, but didn't mind too much because we were sweating from the hike anyway.
Jill in front of a log jam at one end of Avalanche Lake.

Once we were done with the hike we ate some lunch in the car and, because so much of the park was closed, we decided to start heading to our next stop - Bozeman, MT.

West Glacier, MT to Bozeman, MT. 314 Miles, 5 Hours 29 Minutes.

It was after dark by the time we arrived in Bozeman, so we quickly found a Walmart and posted up for the night. It was very cold - just 19 degrees - and difficult to sleep soundly.

Day 37:

 We started the day off getting ready in the bathroom at Walmart. Once we were done we headed to the Fish Technology Center, which was a complete bust. As far as we could tell it was closed, maybe for the season. We walked around a bit on the trail surrounding the area, and then headed back into town. We liked the funky, modern, green-building looking neighborhood we drove through to get here.

Our next stop was the Emerson Center for the Arts. This is an arts community center that is housed in a former elementary school. Here we found many studios, shops, a cafe, and a performance space. We loved this concept, this place, and everything about it. 

Inside the Emerson, we found an Art-O-Mat - the first one either of us had seen - but not the last one we would see on the trip. This is where we bought our first piece of art on the trip. From the placard on the machine;

"Founded in 1997, Artists In Cellophane is an arts group that converts retired cigarette machines into fine art vending machines. Inside of this machine are original works of art, music, writings, conceptual thoughts and unique ideas"

After the Emerson, we were pretty hungry so we decided to check out the Co-Op. We were very impressed with their selection, cheap wine, and high quality hot prepared food & salad bar. We decided that rather than buying groceries and making lunch we would just get something from the hot bar. I noticed they were selling one of my favorites too!

Chicken Marbella!
We ate our lunch on the ground level, in the lovely court yard. It was fall, so the foliage was changing color and beautiful leaves were blowing around. There was a very active community board in the court yard - another plus about Bozeman. 

Notice the community board in the background. 
After lunch we headed a bit out of town to Neptune's Brewery, where we had a Groupon for a tasting. Neptune is in Livingston, MT - which is a pretty small town. We weren't really sure what to expect as we were driving into the area, but we were pleasantly surprised that we liked virtually all of the beers (and mead) we had there. This is one of those lucky, kind of rare Groupon's where you don't expect much and are really happy with what you get. 

Once we were back in Bozeman we went to the American Computer & Robotics Museum - mostly at my request. It was pretty much what it sounds like, and a fun place to waste an hour if you're at all interested in this kind of crap. 
This is what my basement looked like growing up. Without the iPad, of course. 
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around main street and peaking out heads into some shops. We saw an ad for bingo in the local paper and decided that we would check it out. 

This was the first time I had played since I was a child. There was a lot of 20-somethings there, a lot of cheap booze - and the whole thing was a lot of fun. If we lived in Bozeman, this would be a regular thing for us.

After bingo we grabbed a late dinner at a restaurant called, 'Over the Tapas'. I think we grabbed a Living Social or Groupon for this place - and while I was pretty skeptical because of the stupid name, we both really enjoyed our meal here. 

Day 38:
We spent most of the day checking out little things here and there. We drove out to the Bridger Bowl Ski Resort for the Bridger Raptor Fest, which wound up being a pretty...kiddy thing. We checked out the Museum of the Rockies - it was a free day. I liked the museum a lot. We used another Groupon to goto a place called Grizzly Bear Encounters, which is a facility that rescues grizzly bears. Our last stop for the night was at Bozeman Hot Springs, which was a nice place to relax a bit and more importantly somewhere to use a shower! Once we were cleaned up we watched some TV on the iPad in the car and turned in for the night. We were leaving early the next day, on our way to Yellowstone National Park. 

From our book:
Pine Creek Falls MT - accessible from pine creek recreation area/pine creek campground. reduced services 9/1. campground closes 9/16. Not sure if there is trail access, may have to call or just visit (not far off our driving route)

  • Groupon
  • Montana Ale Works – Brew Pub, 4-11. 40 taps, extensive local & regional microbrew selection. Fair to average prices on food. Happy hour 4-6 & 9-11 . Daily specials.
    o 611 E Main St/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Watanabe Japanese – Chef from Japan, kinda expensive sushi, reasonable
    everything else. Mon-Sat 11-2:30 & 4:30-8:30 o 1234 W Main St/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Starkys Authentic Americana – Best happy hour in Bozeman (4-6). Lunch 11- 4, Dinner Tue-Sat 4-close.
    o 24 N Tracy Ave/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Pho Real Restaurant. 242 E Main St/Bozeman MT/59715

Free to do:
  • Altitude Gallery – Contemporary art gallery. Mon-Sat 10-5
    o 134 E Main St/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Emerson Center for the Arts – Exhibits, Galleries, Classes, Shops. Various

    hours, best time 11-5.
    o 111 S Grand Ave/Bozeman MT/59715

  • American Computer & Robotics Museum – Tue-Sun 12-4. Looks silly & fun. Evolution of the information age, from abacus to microchips
    o 2023 Stadium Dr #1A/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Bozeman Fish Technology Center – See people working on research of fish
    cultural techniques, fish disease, fish fed development & test, broodstock diet testing, and fishery management. Restoration of Pallid Sturgeon, Arctic Gralying, Cutthroat Trout. 1⁄2 mile nature loop along creek. 8-4.
    o 4050 Bridger Canyon Rd/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Bridger Raptor Festival – Oct 3-5, Free, Centered around largest Golden Eagle
    Migration in US. for schedule/info.
  • Palisades Falls – South on 19th st 5 miles to Haylite Canyon Rd, South of
    Hyalite Canyon Rd 20 miles to Forest Rd, Go west one mile to Palisades falls picnic area & trailhead. 1⁄2 mile trail, 80 foot waterfall. Volcanic cliffs. Hexagonal basalt columns.
  • Museum of the Rockies – Has a planetarium, living history farm, discovery
    center, dinosaur complex, history hall, etc. Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5. Adult $14 (good for 2 days).
    o 600 W Kagy Blvd/Bozeman MT/59717
  • Sacks of Bozeman – ‘best’ thrift store.
    o 138 W Mendenhall St/Bozeman MT/59715

  • Montana Grizzly Encounter – Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, see grizzly bears. 10-6, $7.
    o 80 Bozeman Hill Rd/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Gallatin History Museum – Tue-Sat 11-4. $5. Looks kinda dull.
    o 317 W Main St/Bozeman MT/59715
  • Bozeman Hot Springs Spa & Fitness – Hot Pools, check hours but generally

    6a-11p. $8.50
    o 81123 Gallatin Rd/Bozeman MT/59718

  • Chico Hot Springs – 8-11, $7.50
    o 163 Chico Rd/Pray MT/59065

  • Madison Buffalo Jump State Park - $5. Daylight hours. o 6990 Buffalo Jump Rd/Three Forks MT/59752
  • Norris Hot Springs – Food, beer, music Fri-Sun, Hot springs. Thu, Fri, Mon – 4-10, Sat-Sun, 12-10. $7 , $9 if music. All food sourced locally or grown in house. Affordable. Cool place.
    o Montana 84/Norris MT/59745

GLACIER NP. St Mary will be closed so enter from West Glacier. From Bozeman go 90W to 200Nto 93N to 35 N – to this allows to go along Flathead Lake. NO GAS IN PARK. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sans Gluten

So I've known Jan for a while now, and while I have always been aware of her dietary restrictions, it never really dawned on me just how bad they are until she came into Peck's for dinner a few weeks back.

 We deal with allergies, restrictions, and preferences on a daily basis but Jan's list is quite extensive. I spent a good part of my day working on several projects - from bread service to desserts - so that I could  have something to send her. Unfortunately most of these were failures and I was left in awe because... to be frank, I have a fair amount of knowledge and experience with baking and pastry and typically the things I make come out pretty well.  It became more and more apparent to me throughout the day how difficult something as simple as feeding yourself can be for some people. I remember listening to Nick and Matt (Chef & Sous) spitballing ideas back and forth about what food to cook for her and nearly everything ended with, 'Oh shit, she can't have _____ ingredient'. All in all, we came up with an inspired and fulfilling menu that she enjoyed and appreciated immensely (she was still talking about it yesterday when I saw her). When I visited her table towards the end of the meal, she was glowing, and so ecstatic.  It was overwhelmingly clear to me that eating out, and food in general , is something important and meaningful to her. And now with the progression of her intolerances, it has become increasingly difficult and strenuous to the point where it is just not worth the stress.

This whole experience kind of shifted my perspective a bit. I have always been sympathetic to people with food allergies and intolerances, but just like virtually every other chef and cook I have known - I have rolled my eyes and been frustrated by dietary requests on many occasions.

So often they seem to come off as people passing preferences off as more 'legitimate' restrictions. Guests who are on a date may say they have a garlic or onion allergy because they don't want it on their breath. Someone on a new diet may say they have a gluten allergy. And so on. Dominic talked a bit about the importance of the distinction in his, 'What Bugs The Kitchen' post - but to sum it up a true allergy requires that we sanitize our work space, our tools, use new, clean equipment, etc, etc.. and a preference simply means hold the garlic. Taking an allergy seriously requires a lot of extra attention and can very easily derail a smoothly running line.  Because people so often abuse this - flat out lying about having allergies - it has created this hostile attitude in kitchens towards these requests/restrictions and its not unusual to see cooks not taking them seriously. 

This sort of behavior is bullshit. On both sides. Guests should be forthcoming about preferences vs. allergies/intolerances, but its also not really up to us as chefs to decide what is legitimate and what isn't. Why someone does or doesn't want something is irrelevant - all that matters is that we do everything we can to oblige their request.

"... the customer could be my dad, it could be you. Who fucking cares? It could be anyone, and it’s not up to me or the waiter or the cook in the back to determine a legitimate reason for not drinking. So the restaurant establishment needs to show more empathy in general towards people’s individual needs." 
From Peter Meehan's interview of Fred Morin, 'The Art of (Gluten-Free) Living According to Joe Beef

In the past, I have always tried to have at least one gluten free option on my dessert menus - just to cover my bases. The idea was once I have an option on the menu for guests who can't have gluten on I wouldn't really have to 'deal with that again'. My only reason not to offer more gluten free options has always been that I don't want to compromise the quality of the desserts I am making in any way shape or form..and I have always left it at that. Recently it has come to me that in doing this, I am taking the easy route - because having this attitude says a lot more about me and my abilities than anything else. Only offering one gluten free option and thinking thats good enough is still singling out people with gluten intolerances. It says, 'Here is the one thing you can have, I don't care if you like it or not, because if you want a dessert you have to order this'. If I took that approach with my work in any other area or capacity - I would be out of a job very quickly. 

My menu format at Pecks is pretty straight forward. Everything is verbalized, allowing for a good amount of fluidity. I can change things out here and there, adjust things that work or don't work, etc. I am responsible for the following, among other things.

Bread service - this changes often and can be more-or-less anything I feel like making. Currently it is some sort of pizza/focaccia hybrid.
Core dessert menu - three options that stay the same for an undetermined amount of time. So far its been about 2 months between changes - with the option of changing more or less frequently. 
Vegan option - Pretty self explanatory. 
Features - Offered daily - always have one option, sometimes two. They typically hang out for one week, but if they're especially popular I will run them for two. 
Mignardises - One bite petit fours that are given with the check. If I have time, I make them. If I don't, I don't. Anything goes. Ive run various pate de fruit, different cookies, and confections. 

I am proud to say that currently all three of my offerings on my core dessert menu are gluten free. This is not by coincidence, but rather through educating myself and a bit of trial and error. I plan on maintaining this - so long as I am able to meet my standards for quality. While my bread service remains the same, I have added a gluten free option as well - currently gougères. Making an overhaul of my menu like this while doing something that I have pretty limited experience with is a process and adds a decent amount of work as well as difficulty to my job. I am in no way claiming that I am becoming a gluten free pastry kitchen - but I am going to do my best to offer as many high quality gluten free options as I am capable of without sacrificing any quality. All of this has n̶o̶t̶  worked its way into the work I do at Lucas Confectionery Wine Bar o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶  and hopefully all of our other projects
Gluten Free Gougeres
I also don't want to single out gluten. Its simply where I started. Many other restrictions can be accommodated on the fly - or better yet, with  24 + hours notice. My next goal is to have vegan option(s) always available. I have been tinkering with a vegan 'ice cream' recipe for a while now and I am making progress towards where I would like it to be - but currently that is the only vegan thing I always offer. Ideally, I will eventually have real, composed, dessert(s) to offer that can stand with anything else I do (with or without gluten). 

Long story short, tl;dr, whatever - Don't hide in your excuses. Don't look at restrictions as an annoyance, but rather as a challenge. Don't be complacent with what you do, or else you will never grow.