Van Life Trial, the Saga—Part II

Do you remember when I said we were heading to the Olympic Hot Springs? Well, nature had some other plans for us. A road closure at the Madison Falls entrance to the park due to a flood washout meant we had to come up with a Plan B.

We set off for the coast to peep some tide pools and scope out an old WWII bunker at Salt Creek in Crescent Bay, WA. While Darrel drove, I whipped up some extra gourmet PB&J’s, which we enjoyed with a side of fresh picked wild blackberries. Yum! The water was still a little high for good tide pooling, but we managed to see some neat stuff regardless. We tickled a thousand tiny anemones, tracked a bunch of miniature crabs hard at work, admired the savagery and hunting prowess of the seabirds via their piles of emptied mussel and urchin shells, climbed some very slippery rocks, snuck through a natural bridge, and scanned the shoreline for shiny tossed shells. It was a beautiful area well worth the stop, albeit a quick one.

Next we spun “Cousteau” around some crazy twists and turns on the road around Crescent Lake. The clear turquoise lake is massive and pristine. The thick forested mountains enveloping the lake peek through low-hanging clouds and rolling fog. The view was nothing short of spectacular.

On the road again, we made a pit stop in Forks. Now, if you haven’t heard of Forks, that probably means you’re not an 11 year old girl. Or that you haven’t read the Twilight vampire books. Fine, fine. Unfortunately, as we did not see a single vampire glittering in the sunlight as we’d expected, we carried on.

We wanted a night on the beach, so we opted for a site at the Kalaloch Beach Campground. The grounds were, again, incredibly lush and green, and set atop a cliff overlooking a soft, powdery sand beach. It’s hard to describe the immense and overwhelming beauty of the melding of such picturesque scapes as the temperate rain forest and the Pacific coast. It’s truly unlike any other.

Walking to the campsite like…

Right side up or upside down? You tell me!

Glamping was the name of the game today. We made a delicious dinner of Field Roast Sausages and vegetable skewers, with a vanmade–see what I did there? *wink wink*–herbed apricot jam glaze. It’s amazing how creative and inventive we can get when we are limited in our material possessions. After all, we had a refrigerator the size of a six-pack, so we had to use what we had by making more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of peanut butter and jelly. Then we took a stroll, naturally with wine in hand, down to the shore and marveled at the distance we could walk out in the low tide. We wrapped up our lovely day with a crackling fire and some storytelling before bed. Perfection.

Van Life Trial, the Saga

Part I

Drove into the Dosewallips National Forrest last night. It was dark by the time we got in, and we were pretty tired. But we still managed to muster up some energy to find a great little dispersed campsite, drink a little wine, and enjoy a warm campfire before settling in for our first restful night in our awesome sleeper atop “Cousteau,” by the relaxing sound of the river below us. 

It wasn’t until the morning that we even realized how wondrous the setting was. We opened our sleeper window to a scene of epic greenery. Total lushness. Vibrant green treetops, trunks covered top to bottom in soft moss, and shrubbery, ferns and damp mulch underfoot. Absolutely stunning. 

We cooked up some breakfast and brewed fresh coffee in our little kitchenette, tidied up our campsite, and headed off for our day. I made Darrel stop so I could forage some wile blackberries I spotted on the side of the road. Now, we’re making our way west to the Olympic Hot Springs in Olympic National Park, or maybe a quick detour in Forks for some vampire hunting. More to come!

Faux Fancy Pear & Brie Puffs

05AE1CEA-A85A-467B-90D2-774EFF828F48Fancy is fun! Getting dolled up and sparkly is a welcomed rarity in the midst of my eat-cookie-butter-by-the-spoonful-in-my-stretchy-pants-and-Ugg-boots lifestyle. But fancy can also be draining. Glitz and glam don’t come free, y’all! Well, it’s the same with food. That’s why sneaky tricks that make gourmet food preparation easy and carefree are everything!

It’s faux fancy. And we don’t have to let anyone in on our dirty little secret.

I was invited to spend Christmas with my boyfriend’s practically professional chef of a mom. I helped the family unpack her newly renovated baker’s kitchen, and let me tell you, a kitchen that loaded belongs not to the shy of stove. These were high stakes, people, and I had to bring my A game. It was my opportunity to impress the panel with something really…well, fancy.

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But I had also just road-tripped after flying a tiring four-day while recovering from the flu to my mom’s very limited pantry (thanks for hosting us, Mommy!) for an extremely short and action-packed holiday weekend. There was much to be done, many to be seen, and not a heck of a lot of time to fit it all in.

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Yule log with life-like merengue mushrooms, made by Darrel’s mom, the baking wizard

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So while I was celebrating with my cousin’s family on Christmas Eve, we started looking through this great finger foods cookbook. Imagine, an entire book devoted to finger foods! Why hadn’t I thought of that?! Anyway, I came across a recipe for Goat Cheese and Apple Puff Pastry Tarts. I loved this concept. For starters, cheese and fruit is the perfect flavor combination. It’s salty and sweet, creamy and fresh. The two are so beautifully in sync, their partnership is both the envy and covet of all other food couples. Fruit and cheese is a fancy gourmet oeuvre that is laughably easy to prepare. Now set them atop a flaky, buttery pillow of puff pastry, and you’ve got yourself an impressive, yet effortless hors d’oeuvre. My mouth was watering just from thinking about the crispy crumbs.

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At that, I knew I wanted to take this recipe and customize it. My boyfriend loves pears, possibly more than he loves me. And I think Brie is the bees’ knees. Together, they are magical. I decided to round out the flavor of the tarts with the savory-sweet richness of honey-caramelized onions. And I finished it all off with aromatic fresh thyme. Thus was born the Faux Fancy Pear and Brie Puffs.

A funny thing about me is that I have no clue how to cook for small groups. It’s the whole army, or nothing. I assume it stems from my upbringing of watching my mom cook for a biggish family. Whatever the reason, I can’t seem to get it right. So, of course I made way too many tarts for our dainty little group. When I came to the door boasting two large baking sheets full of puffy, peary goodness, they got some good laughs in about my intimate-group-cooking shortcomings.

Well, guess who ate just about every last tart! You betcha. I took it as bona fide proof that this elementary recipe had big, grown-up flavor. Joke’s on them!

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Faux Fancy Pear and Brie Tarts

Ingredients

  • frozen puff pastry (2 sheets)
  • 10 oz. brie, sliced into 2 in squares
  • 2 pears
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. honey
  • Fresh thyme

Instructions

  1. Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil. Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally until deeply brown. About 45 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 415°. Cut each puff pastry sheet into 4 squares and then each square into quarters. Set slightly apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Place sliced brie atop the pastry.
  3. Slice the pear thinly and evenly into 2-3 inch pieces.
  4. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of caramelized onions over the brie. Then fan out a few slices of pear on top of that. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes until the puff pastry is cooked through and golden brown along the edges.
    IN ADVANCE: The pastry squares can be topped with the cheese, covered, and refrigerated over night. Slice the pear and top pastries just prior to baking.