Purple Triumph

Finally, I got a measurable harvest from my tiny, shady, deer-ridden little vegetable patch. This year's success came from the Italian heirloom pole bean aptly named 'Trionfo Violetto' that I bought from Silver Heights Nursery. Not only does this variety sport beautiful lilac flowers and dark purple pods, it is absolutely delicious. After a few weeks away, some of the beans had grown too large and stringy to eat so I shelled those and added them to the younger ones to make a bean salad with toasted almonds (my recipe below, which we had with grilled trout). I highly recommend this prolific bean. My only regret is that the purple pods don't hold their unusual dusky violet color once they're cooked.

Green Bean Salad with Roasted Almonds

1 lb green beans (approx)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup unsalted raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Lemon zest from one lemon

Wash and trim tops from the green beans and set aside. Shell any pods that are old or tough and enjoy the tender beans inside. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic, then the almonds and cook until the almonds brown. Don't let the garlic get too dark and remove from the heat. Add the lemon zest.

Once the saucepan water is boiling, blanch the green beans by cooking them for less than 5 minutes. Once they are bright green but still crunchy, drain them and rinse them quickly with cold tap water, drain again.

Toss the beans with the almonds, chopped herbs and serve warm or at room temperature.

"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees."

"I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues."

This 1971 book by Dr. Seuss and its 1972 television special had a big effect on me as a child. This is pure environmentalism propaganda and I love it. The music is completely dated but the strong message of big business greed, capitalism and the dangers of unchecked consumerism is just as powerful today. This is especially true in light of recent events in the Gulf of Mexico where our dependence on thneeds has polluted a beautiful eco-system with gluppity-glup and schloppity-schlop on a Seussian scale.

I hear that there is a new version of the story coming out in 2012 (in 3D no less). In the meantime, I recommend watching this program with the kids or just by yourself over cereal in the morning—you'll feel like an idealistic child of seven again.

Hunting for porcini and wildflowers near Aspen

While on a visit to see my Dad and stepmother in Aspen the other week, Chad and I had a free morning to take a hike. On our previous visits, we enjoyed Maroon Bells and Crater Lake so this time we wanted to try something new. My stepmother and her family have an intimate knowledge of the area hiking trails since they have been in Aspen for decades. They suggested Savage Lakes Trail, which is at the end of a long but incredibly beautiful drive up to a remote spot past the Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt. 

A salesman at the local sporting goods store had told us that we might find porcini mushrooms along those trails since it has been such a wet summer. (Most locals seem to use the botanical name Boletus instead of porcini or the Anglo-French cèpes.) We never made it up to the 11,000-foot summit of the steep trail and Savage Lake, but instead we got happily sidetracked by a forest full of wild mushrooms and wildflowers of all kinds. It was definitely much more about the journey than the destination that memorable day.

Even though this was our first time, Chad turned out to have a hidden talent as a mushroom hound and could spot the fat little chestnut-brown piglets at 15 paces. I would like to say that his talent comes from superior eyesight or powers of concentration, but I suspect it is his love of getting expensive stuff for free that made him so good at the job. "This is about $120 dollars worth of mushrooms!" he would exclaim while joyfully shaking his plastic grocery bag for emphasis. I was always a few steps behind in the hunt and usually got hung up photographing some other beautiful—but perhaps deadly—fungus like the ones above right. We were careful not take anything that we weren't absolutely sure of. We ended up with a basket full of porcini that we took home and carefully identified before sautéing them for a pasta dinner for the folks and my sister. The mushrooms were delicious.

Being so high up around 10,000 feet, we saw all the wildflowers that had already bloomed down in town, plus many more. There were pale blue columbines, mertensia (M. lanceolata) and a mysterious blackish flower I had never seen before called star gentian (Swertia perennis).

The orchid-like elephant's head (Pedicularis groenlandica) is an alpine wildflower that grows beside mountain streams.

Chad, with his bag of precious boletus, is flanked by a wild monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) on the left and a white cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) on the right.

All sorts of composite flowers were blooming among the tall trees. I think the one on the left might be an arnica and the one on the right might be a senecio. I am trying to get to know my Rocky Mountain flora better with each trip.

These lovely pale lilac flowers looked like asters, but I wasn't able to identify them in any of my books.

The crepe-y petals of this hardy geranium (Geranium richardsonii) look too delicate for its remote and rocky setting but the forest was full of them.