Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Colorado hiking, wildflowers and a Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake

Colorado July 2009 043-crop v2

To me, hiking and Colorado are synonymous.   It’s my favorite activity during summer trips.  Easy as it seems, for us Texans it’s not something we can dive into upon arrival.  We sea-levelers fight altitude sickness and a serious lack of oxygen that has us panting and gasping for air every few feet we rise further from the sea.  

My all-time favorite Colorado hike was a few years ago when we started off at the Smiths’ cabin at Pearl Lakes, near Creede.  Led by resident Eagle Scout, Ralph Smith, we hiked for four hours until we reached the rocky summit of Finger Mesa - a rise of over 2,000 feet!  At the time, favorite Son was working on his Camping merit badge (on his way to Eagle) and one of the requirements was a hike such as that.  Challenging at every vertical step, we traversed beautiful valleys and rocky wind-swept fields, and soon realized that objects were always a lot further than they appeared!  Just when we thought we were at the summit, another valley or steep slope presented itself as a challenge. 

The payoff was worth every altitude-induced headache:  the vista was an unobstructed 360 degrees of mountain ranges and peaks for miles and miles in the distance.

Alex and Teague appraising the scenerydragpic1-crop v1

This year, we came across this tiny stream (pictured at the top).  It is so much prettier in reality.  My friend, Stacey, thinks that the picture would make a great jigsaw puzzle because when we’re not hiking, fishing or playing darts, we’re putting together 1,000 (tiny) piece puzzles.   Would you like to try matching the leaves, flowers and grasses of that one, Barbara?

Stacey, Barbara and Emilia working on puzzle #3Colorado July 2009 285-crop v1

Back to hiking…..During our hikes, we stumble upon so many lovely wildflowers and of course, I have to photograph just about every one of them (brace yourselves for a slew of pictures taken by this amateur!).  Great variations in altitude (3,500’ to almost 15,000’ above sea level), climate, and terrain allow for a plethora of flora.  Early in July, we went for days without seeing the state flower and finally found these two Colorado Columbines behind Castle Rock:Colorado July 2009 082-crop v1

King’s Crown bloomsColorado July 2009 007-crop v1

 Elkslip Marshmarigold growing in a tiny creek over 10,000 feet above sea levelColorado July 2009 025-crop v2

  Wild IrisColorado July 2009 031-crop v3

 Rachel and Emilia taking a break from the climb near Castle RockColorado July 2009 081-crop v1

We walked through an aspen stand (it felt like we were being watched!)Colorado July 2009 089 v1

Early morning dewColorado July 2009 639 v1

If you get up early enough, you might see a shaggy-coated mule deer behind the cabinColorado July 2009 543-crop v1

Baby pine cones Colorado July 2009 675-crop v1

Alpine WallflowerColorado July 2009 071 v2

Silky PhaceliaColorado July 2009 107-crop v1

Geum triflorum, purple avens, or simply ‘old man’s whiskers’Colorado July 2009 121-crop v2

And then there are the controversial four-wheelers, only for when a hike would be too long…right!   I’m not a big fan of the noisemakers and even the slightest tilt makes me feel like I’m falling off (a daredevil I am not).  But they did afford me a trip up the ridge to a most beautiful lake:

Black LakeColorado July 2009 133 v1

Colorado July 2009 147 v1-crop v1 Karley led me to Black Lake.  She’s the cutest teenager and when I asked her to slow down on the way back because I am not a speed demon and I wanted to take a few pictures, she casually put her left hand on her waist and we cruised back.

Colorado July 2009 139-crop v2

I made a Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake before I left Houston and it travelled well over two days in the car.  I believe the time spent sealed in a tin allowed the cake to become very moist, and the tartness of the lemon and sweetness of the blueberries to blend beautifully.  Next time I’ll try it with fresh cranberries for an über tart cake!

blueberry lemon cake 019-crop v1

Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake   adapted from Fine Cooking, September 2006

1⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal (I used Goya’s Harina de Maiz)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon, or about 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup buttermilk
1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat oven to 350° F.   Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2-inch round springform cake pan.  Line the bottom with a parchment round cut to fit the pan.  Lightly flour the sides, and tap out the excess.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until blended.  In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until the batter is smooth and fluffy, about 3 min.  Add the lemon zest and lemon juice (the batter may appear curdled; don’t worry).
On slow speed, fold in half of the dry ingredients, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients until just combined.  Do not overbeat the batter.
Scoop about half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Spread with a spatula until even.  Spoon blueberries in a single layer on the batter in the pan.  Scrape the rest of the batter on top of the blueberries and spread evenly. 
Bake in the preheated oven.  After 35 minutes, test the cake for doneness with a cake tester or toothpick.  If it comes out clean, it’s done. 
Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 min.  Remove side ring of the springform and cool completely.  Carefully invert the cake and peel the parchment off the bottom.  Flip it over onto a serving plate.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar or ice with my Cream Cheese Icing, if desired.  Serves 8-10.



  1. that looks and sounds amazing :) can't wait to give it a try :)

  2. What a beautiful post! Really from beginning to end, the pictures say 1000 words.


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