For New Year’s Eve Matt requested a decadent chocolate cake. I debated a couple of different frosting options (chocolate, vanilla, and even peanut butter) before deciding that the best complement would be coffee buttercream and dark chocolate ganache. Thus, the mocha cake was born. I definitely need to invest in some proper cake decorating tools, but, looks notwithstanding, this cake was amazing.
The chocolate cake base is an adaption of the classic Hershey’s cake. I’ve been using it for years and it never disappoints. It’s perfectly chocolatey and amazingly moist. For the buttercream, I went with an American buttercream since it is a bit less finicky than my favored Swiss meringue. I added brewed coffee to get a subtle flavor and a few drops of food coloring for color (though next time I would go without). The ganache is a classic dark chocolate ganache that was added between layers as well as the top to give it an extra boost of chocolate. And for the garnish, I tempered some chocolate and made some chocolate covered coffee beans. These are tasty on their own but do pack some serious caffeine – we learned the hard way that it’s not wise to eat them before bed!
Check out the recipe below and let me know if you give it a shot!
November and December saw fewer hikes than previous months. Having left the lush Pacific Northwest, we’re a bit less enthused getting out on the trails. San Diego isn’t known for hiking and the trails near the city are lackluster. Suffice to say, it’s been a bit harder finding places to hike. Nonetheless, we’ve found a few places to get our hearts pumping and have staked out a few more routes further into the mountains.
Tecolote Canyon is a nature park near Mission Bay with roughly 7 miles of trails. The trails are fairly rocky and wide but aren’t too difficult. There are a few spots under the power lines that are very steep, but otherwise the trails are relatively flat and easy to walk or run. It’s along a golf course and near a road, so don’t expect to feel like you’re in nature, but for something close to the city it’s a decent spot to walk around.
Balboa Park is another in-city option for getting off road. There are 65 miles of trails – this includes both paved and dirt – throughout the park. We live less than 1 mile from the park so getting on the trails is an easy activity during the week. The trails aren’t very well marked and run along heavily trafficked roads so keep that in mind. On the plus side, they are pretty lightly trafficked so you’ll likely have the trail mostly to yourself.
So far, this has been the best spot for hiking we’ve found in San Diego. It’s a bit of a drive from our apartment, but worth it to get some trail time on the weekend. We’ve actually done three separate hikes here in December alone. There are 60+ miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Our first trip took us from the south entrance to South Fortuna Peak. It was a 5 mile, moderate loop with a mile of glute-burning stairs to the peak. The second two times, I did a 15k and 21k loop that are marked through the park. Both start at the east entrance and go through the Grasslands Loop before climbing to the peaks. The 15k winds through the valley before ascending to South Fortuna Peak with 1,900 ft of ascent, while the 21k begins with North Fortuna Peak before cruising along the park perimeter and joining back with the 15k loop at the South Fortuna ascent for a total of 2,880 ft of ascent. It’s not for the faint of heart, but aside from the two major climbs it’s very doable. The views of San Diego and the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains are spectacular.
It’s no secret that I love to bake. With all of the ultramarathon training in 2019, it wasn’t unusual for me to bake something weekly. My standby is always and forever chocolate walnut cookies (need to share that recipe), but I found myself more drawn to cakes this past year. Without further adieu, here’s a taste of the cakes and a few other delectables that came out of our kitchen in 2019:
Girl Scout Cookie Samoa Cake – this was oh so good! A decadent cake composed of chocolate cake layers, toasted coconut caramel, chocolate ganache, and shortbread buttercream. It’s on my list to make again soon.
Chocolate strawberry cake – a classic for a reason. This cake was made of chocolate cake layers, filled with homemade strawberry preserves, strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream, and topped with a dark chocolate ganache and chocolate covered strawberries.
Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes – a little boozy delight for St. Patrick’s Day. These yummies were made of stout chocolate cake, filled with whiskey dark chocolate ganache, and topped with an Irish Cream buttercream. These were so good I made them twice! The buttercream really stole the show.
Carrot Cake – Momofuku Milk Bar’s take on the classic. While this wasn’t our preferred carrot cake, it was a fun take on our favorite dessert. Spiced carrot cake layers were topped with liquid cheesecake, milk crumbs, and graham cracker buttercream.
Lemon poppy seed pound cake – after a couple of iterations I finally nailed down this recipe and made it more times than I can count. The cake is incredibly moist and the zing of the lemon icing takes it to a new level. Make sure to oil AND flour the pan before baking so it gets a nice rise.
Apple Pie – the classic Thanksgiving dessert. Still working on perfecting my pie crust, but this was a delicious end to a decadent meal.
Christmas cookies – nothing says Christmas like rolled out sugar cookies. These babies are the best with just a hint of almond. I love to put on a movie and zone out as I decorate them.
mocha cake – Matt requested something decadent for the new year and this did not disappoint. Chocolate cake layers sandwiched with coffee buttercream and dark chocolate ganache; topped with a ganache drizzle and chocolate covered coffee beans. Definitely a good call if you want to stay up until midnight! Recipe coming soon!
not pictured but also enjoyed: our very favorite carrot cake and blueberry streusel cake that was like a delicious blueberry icing-topped muffin in cake form.
In late October we spent two weeks in Yucca Valley, CA. We were able to take advantage of the proximity and visited Joshua Tree National Park on a warm, sunny afternoon.
Joshua Tree is the intersection of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. The park has a vast array of landscape, flora, and fauna with amazing geologic features brought about by strong winds and torrential rain. The Western side of the park – the Mojave Desert – is higher elevation and is home to some spectacular rock features and the famous Joshua Trees. Many of the rock formations are a result of historic weather when the climate was much wetter than it is currently.
We entered the park through the West Entrance and drove the park road to Keys View. National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, so we were limited in where we could go and do with Snickers. We were able to hop out of the car and walk along some dirt roads, but our visit was mostly limited to what we could see from the car. We also only scratched the surface, mostly limiting our tour to the Western side.
The rock formations through Hidden Valley were amazing. We would’ve loved to hop out and explore. There are some very popular rocks – arch rock, skull rock, heart rock – and we would definitely recommend getting out and exploring if you are able. Surprisingly, we didn’t snag a photo of these, but the photo below is a good representation.
Of course, we have to mention the Joshua Trees. These prehistoric-looking trees are mostly contained to the Mojave Desert, and can be found in California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. These unique trees often live hundreds of year, with some species living for a thousand.
Keys View is a spectacular vista on the crest of the Little San Bernadino Mountains overlooking Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea. The mountain drops a mile to the valley, and the San Andreas Fault runs right through it. On clear days you can see all the way to Mexico, though the skies were hazy the day we visited.
Sadly, our year in Portland has come to a close and we’re now calling San Diego home. We haven’t done a proper update in a long time, so wanted to pop in a quick recap for posterity’s sake.
Summer in the Pacific Northwest was a dream. The season is very fleeting, but we relished it while it stuck around. It seemed like it took forever for warm weather to stick around; we had some high temps in June, but it was solidly July before we could pack away the sweatshirts and jeans. The weather was warm, sunny, and dry and we spent most of our time outdoors. I was still in the thick of ultra training, and was so happy to be able to run some dry trails. We had lots of visitors (my parents, Matt’s parents, Jake and Megan!), got in loads of trail time, and enjoyed plenty of beers along the way.
One of our favorite activities was urban foraging. The berry situation was insane! Everywhere we went there were loads of blackberries. It was perfect for an afternoon snack at the park. Speaking of parks, we spent so many afternoons at Washington Park and Mt. Tabor. Snickers could spend all day just sunning herself in the grass.
We got to a few Timbers matches as well. We watched them play Orlando (tie) and Real Salt Lake (W). We loved being able to walk to and from the stadium from our apartment.
After 2 years, I finally hopped back on my bike! One evening, we hopped on our bikes and rode the Springwater Corridor along the Willamette’s east bank. We ended up at a couple of breweries – Unicorn and Ancestry – and wished we had been doing this for date night all summer long.
Fall came in like a lion right before we left. The trees were awash with spectacular reds and oranges and the nights started getting quite crisp. We started spending a bit more time indoors – with no races to train for, it was a lot harder for me to get out the door when it was raining. We spent the last month soaking in everything about the city that we’re going to miss so much – hiking the lush, mossy trails, eating all of of our favorite foods (Pok Pok, Apizza Scholls, Bamboo, to name a few), and, of course, one last game of Deadpool pinball at Ground Kontrol.
We even started eyeing Zillow for some some houses :). Not quite ready to put down roots yet, but Portland is on the short list for when we are.
In early September, we hiked in the Molalla Forest, just east of Salem. There were a lot of trails in the forest, so we didn’t do the exact loop listed on AllTrails, but we did a combination of trails for a total of 6.5 miles. The trail started on the Huckleberry Trail, which is a service road. After a couple of miles on that, we were getting bored so we hopped onto some single-track trail and wound our way through the forest. It was a rainy day and very lightly trafficked. The trails were easy, with little elevation gain – we averaged ~1,000 feet over the course of our hike. While it was enjoyable, we wouldn’t recommend this hike since it was mostly service road with a few short single-track trails thrown in.
We ended our last weekend in Oregon the same way we started – with some trail time in the Tillamook Forest. The main reason we came to Oregon was so I could run the Elk-King’s 50K and ever since, we’ve been dying to come back and do this loop. We did hike just the King’s Mountain Trail back in December but hadn’t made it back for the full loop. It seemed very fitting that we made this our last adventure.
This trail was lightly trafficked and HARD. As avid hikers, we don’t use that description often and it takes a special trail to earn it. We started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, and the trail climbed over 2,000 feet in 1.5 miles to Elk Mountain. It was brutal! The trail was steep and very rocky. At points it felt like we were just scrambling, and our hiking poles were extremely useful. After a breather at the top, we started the descent to the ridge line that would take us to King’s Mountain. It was more rocky scrambling through this portion and our legs were getting very fatigued. We finally made it to the King’s Mountain summit and the views were spectacular. The last time we were there, it was snowing and you couldn’t see across the valley. This day we had bluebird skies and perfect views of both Mt. Hood and the ocean. From there, it was an easy, gradual descent down the King’s Mountain trail and a 3 mile hike along the Wilson River Trail back to the car for a total of 10.5 miles.
Pat’s Knob is a 4.5 mile trail near Incline Village in North Lake Tahoe. The trail is moderate, but the altitude (over 8k ft at the base) made it a bit strenuous. The trail starts on a service road for ~1/2 mile before veering off into single-track. The actual trailhead can be easy to miss, so keep an eye out. The trail is mostly loose rock, but not overly technical. At the top, there is a great lookout point over Lake Tahoe with some rocks for scrambling. We were the only ones at the top (a rarity!), so we spent a bit of time just hanging out and admiring the view. The return trip was a quick downhill through the forest.
The Secret Cove is a short, gradual trail that leads to a gorgeous cove on Lake Tahoe. The cove is clothing option, so be prepared for some nudity. The weather was in the mid-60s the day we went and, while we didn’t swim, we did enjoy sunning ourselves on the rocks. It was so quiet, and there are plenty of places to escape the other hikers.
We did this 5 mile portion of the Tahoe Rim trail in the evening after work. AllTrails says it’s heavily trafficked, but we went on a cold evening in the shoulder season and didn’t see anyone after the first half mile. There is only 550 ft. of elevation gain making it a great running trail or simply a good intro to hiking at altitude. The majority of the climb is in the first mile and then the trail is mostly flat to the falls. It runs through the forest – there are no views of Lake Tahoe – and you have views of Reno and Tamarack Lake. The trail ends at a small waterfall, which was a bit frozen the day we went. It was a cold, windy day, so we didn’t spend much time at the falls opting instead to high-tail it back to the car before dark. Overall, a very enjoyable, quick hike.
During our stay in Yucca Valley, we did the Mission Creek Preserve Trail twice. There was no shortage of trails in the area, but most of them were sand which makes for a very difficult, very unpleasant hike. This trail runs through a canyon in the Mission Creek Nature Preserve. The first 1.5 miles are on a gravel road – inaccessible to cars – and then it turns into a single-track trail. It actually serves as a connection to the Pacific Crest Trail! We did 5 miles on this trail and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The trail climbs very gradually through the canyon before opening up to a sweeping vista of the mountains and river. At 1.5 miles, the trail turns through the river bed and comes out on the other side to continue through the canyon. At this point it got too sandy to run, so we turned back.
Exploring smokey Seward, AK
Seward is a beautiful 125 mile (~2 hour) drive south from Anchorage. As you leave Anchorage, the road runs along the Cook Inlet and Chugach State Park providing both mountain and sea views.
Seward is a beautiful little sea town on Resurrection Bay. During our stay, there was a heavy smoke cloud hanging over the area from the Swan Lake Fire. While we couldn’t see much definition in the mountains across the bay, the smoke lent itself to some interesting lighting for photos.
We stayed in an AirBNB on the main drag, just a few blocks from Resurrection Bay. The first night there we walked along the bay and spent some time watching the otters swimming around. We also grabbed some pizza and beer at Seward Brewing Company. Decent selection of beer, solid pizza, and amazing views over the water.
Water Taxi from Seward to Alkai Glacier
The main reason we headed to Seward was to do some kayaking in the glaciers. We booked a trip with Kayak Adventures Worldwide and they outfitted us with kayaks and gear along with a water taxi ride to the put-in site. We took a cold, leisurely ride from Seward to Aialik Bay and got to see some sights along the way.
Wildlife along the way
There were plenty of seals sunning themselves along the shoreline. Reminded us a bit of the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. The guides told us these were adolescents who were testing the waters before returning to the pack.
There were so many otters in the bay! They were so fun to watch since they spend most of their time lying on their backs at the surface.
On the return trip, the taxi took a detour to spot some whales. Seward is a great place to view Orca whales, and there are plenty of options for whale watching tours. We got to see a few groups of Orcas putting on a show.
Kayaking to the Aialik Glacier
We had a gorgeous, sunny, and unusually calm day for our boat ride and kayak adventure. We kayaked about 3 miles to the Aialik Glacier – one of the most active calving glaciers! The glacier was so blue and we could see the lines from where it had moved over the years. What you see in photos is just a small piece; it’s 17 square miles! Fun fact: the glaciers really are as blue as you see in photos. The older the ice, the bluer it looks because it had become so compacted and reflects all other light on the spectrum.
When we got about a half mile from the glacier, we grouped up with the other two kayaks in our group and enjoyed lunch. It was truly an experience to just sit in our kayaks and watch the glacier calve while noshing on a sandwich.
Afterwards we got the chance to kayak around a small island, enjoying the serene landscape. Since our group was pretty strong and fast, we had the opportunity to explore some areas that not many other groups get to see. We kayaked through some islands and into an inlet since the water was high.
We had such a great time in both Seward and Denali. It was definitely a trip for the books, and as we were coming home we were already talking about how we could get back to explore more of the Last Frontier.