February 2020 Hikes

The greater San Diego area has not given us a glory-of-nature feel with the sprawling suburban landscape. However, when it’s 70 and sunny in the middle of winter and we get out for some tank top-friendly hikes, it’s easy to enjoy wherever we go!

Daley Ranch

Beth’s parents joined us from their Florida retreat for a long weekend in the dry San Diego landscape. For a traditional weekend hike with them, we traveled north to Escondido into the Daley Ranch conservation area. In addition to the diverse biological habitat the area preserves, it also offers many paved and dirt trails for people to enjoy.

Daley Ranch entrance

It was a picture-perfect February day in Southern California! There were quite a few people starting and finishing in the late morning when we got there. The trail starts on a paved mile walk down to the old ranch. It never ceases to amaze me how a rancher would chose such a remote site for a ranch! There was fresh water feeding into here, which is an obvious necessity, but you can also see large open areas that were likely fields back in the day.

We were able to get some nice views to the South, overlooking the outskirts of Escondido.

Tijuana

We were lucky enough to host our good friends, Aaron and Dara on their trip to SD! We were looking for some new and high-end tequilas, and we thought a great place to explore would be Tijuana, a quick 15 mile, 30 min drive South. We heard a great way to visit was to park on the US side, where there is plenty of parking next to the premium outlet mall lots, and walk across using the West Pedestrian entrance. It was fast and easy!

We planned on calling an Uber but ended up walking to everywhere we wanted to go!

  1. Our first stop was Casa Cocoa for a delicious mole-based meal with a variety of refreshing cocoa-based drinks.
  2. We continued to the Mercado El Popo to explore a variety of stalls with local foods and ingredients. I wanted pretty badly to stock the pantry but help myself back so we could continue our adventure.
  3. Next stop was, of course, to get some beer! Just off the main drag, Revolucion, we were told about Azteca Craft Brewing which has an eclectic space that you could easily miss.
  4. Beer was great, but we were looking for tequila! So, we headed to a trendy cocktail bar, Estacion. The menu looked good, and the food smelled divine.
  5. Ok, so the Tequila came from an unlikely place… Victor’s Liquor Store. Don’t let the sign in front of the building fool you- “Want to get drunk?” it has some HIGH END tequilas on the shelf! Many we had never heard of, of course. There were some amazing looking bottles, so many kinds from blancos to 23+ super anejos. We walked out with a good find, very satisfied.
  6. We took the hike back to the car, and what do you do after a good day of walking and trying tequilas? TACOS! We went to one of the hottest places in the city – Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista! At 8:30pm there was a line down the street, maybe no surprise. It’s a strange setup with ad hoc lines that are based on the type of food and protein you are getting. The crazy long line is for the adobada which is an amazing-looking, seasoned and slow-roasted pork skewered on pineapples. Pro tip- For a quick bite, grab the shortest line- it’s all so good and will only take a couple minutes!

Big Laguna Mountain

So… Who is ready to get outside?? The expansive Cleveland National Forest offers quite a variety of landscape, including some moderate altitude, 5k ft trails. The air does feel a bit thin coming up from sea level. We headed straight into Big Laguna trail at the Penny Pines Trailhead for a 10 mile moderate hike/run. This is a very run-able course for anyone looking to leg it. We ran about half of it on-and-off to burn a little energy and enjoy the fresh air.

Penny Pines Trail to Big Laguna Mountain looking East into the desert 3k ft below

This area has a very different feel from the trails around the San Diego area. The higher altitude and pine forests really bring us back to a Colorado landscape. The reminder that we’re in Southern California comes early when you look East and see a massive drop-off into the desert landscape.

The lakes (2 of them!) midway through the hike are beautiful to look at, containing many water foul. You can definitely tell this was (is??) range land, with much of it pasture land that is clear of scrubs and plants from the grazing cattle and many fences along the perimeter of the trails.

Beautiful tree growing on dead growth- what is it? Mangrove, Arbutus?

Momofuku Milk Bar Carrot Cake

We love carrot cake. Matt regularly requests it for his birthday and we even served it at our wedding. I have a no-fail recipe, but this time I decided to change it up and try the Momofuku Milk Bar version. I’ve made a handful of Milk Bar cakes before, and, while often time consuming, they’re always fun and combine a variety of flavors and textures.

This cake starts with a spiced carrot cake base made without walnuts, pineapple, or coconut. It’s layered with liquid cheesecake, milk crumbs, and a graham cracker buttercream. Stacked three layers high it’s truly a beautiful cake. Overall, we’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for taste. Each bite is an experience – creamy cheesecake, crunchy milk crumb, and moist, spongy cake. While this cake is a sensory explosion, we prefer the simplicity of a regular carrot cake. You just can’t go wrong with cream cheese frosting!

I own the book and followed the recipe directly from the pages, but if you’d like to give it a try Cake by Courtney has the recipe on her blog. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time since there are a lot of components. I typically make these cakes over two days. And if you’re just looking for a solid carrot cake recipe without all the frills, here are my favorites: carrot cake recipe, buttermilk glaze recipe, and cream cheese frosting recipe.

Bon appetit!

November and December 2018 Hikes

Bald Mountain via Pacific Crest Trail

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Bald Mountain is located in the Mt. Hood National Forest and reached via a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. The drive to the trailhead alone offered amazing views, but the hike is definitely worth the effort.  The trail is moderate due to an initial elevation gain of 1,000 ft. in the first 1.5 miles, but it isn’t too steep and levels out after that point. On the day we went it was pretty lightly trafficked, though it was early November and very cold. Since we were in the mountains (starting at 3,500 ft.), as we climbed the temperature dropped and trees became frost-covered. After the initial climb, you’re treated to a spectacular view of Mt. Hood rising out of the valley. The trail continues an additional 1.5 miles through pine forests before opening up to sweeping views of the valley and Mt. Hood. Go on a clear day to maximize the views and you won’t be disappointed.Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 8.40.34 AM

Dog Mountain

Dog mountain is a 4-6 mile hike in the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side of the river. It is a moderate to difficult trail and hikers have the option of a 4 mile lollipop loop or adding in an additional 2 miles out and back to the peak. The trail climbs steadily for the first half and there is an option of a difficult or more difficult route. The overall elevation gain is just shy of 3,000 feet for the full 6 miles and about 2,000 for the 4 mile loop. We did the 4 mile loop, taking the difficult route up and the more difficult route down. The more difficult route has fewer switchbacks and is quite a bit steeper. The day we went was snowy making the trail a bit slippery and pushing it into a more difficult trail for us; on a clear day we likely would have rated it moderate due to the climbing. The trail is rated moderately-trafficked, however since it was winter we didn’t see an overwhelming number of people. The spring and summer are likely a bit busier. On the way up, we had some great views of the gorge; it was shrouded in a moody winter mist. Overall it was a fun hike, and we’d love to go back to the top on a clear day.Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.14.05 PM

Forest Park

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Forest Park is right in the heart of Portland and contains a vast network of trails. It wasn’t our favorite place to go initially because many of the trails are overly crowded. We found that the further north you go, the less crowded it becomes, so we’ve been exploring more trails further in the park. It’s a great place to get out for a trail run or easy hike without having to drive too far.

Kings Mountain Trail

Kings Mountain is located in the Tillamook Forest, 40 miles west of Portland. I ran my ultra in this forest but didn’t get to the summits, so we knew we wanted to get back and hike. The trail is not easy – it is all uphill gaining 2,500 feet in 2.25 miles until you reach Kings Summit. It’s moderately trafficked, and even on a rainy/snowy day we passed plenty of other hikers. Unfortunately there was no visibility at the top the day we hiked, but on a clear day you can supposedly see all the way to the ocean. We’re planning on going back in nicer weather to do the double Elk-Kings summit loop.

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Round 2

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Dusting off this old blog for round two of Matt and Beth travel the country! We’re currently en route to Phoenix where we’ll spend April exploring the desert before the weather gets too hot. On the agenda: Sedona, Grand Canyon, and Flagstaff.

We’ve spent a little time in the city (mostly for work) so if you have any must-do activities/restaurants/coffee shops/etc. in the area send them our way!

We’ll do our best to keep updating throughout our time on the road. We love sharing our adventures so we’ll definitely be popping in periodically, though it may not be as regular as in 2016.

Thanks for following along!

The End of Austin

We’ve been back in Louisville for about a week, so it’s time to tie up the loose ends of our travels for 2016.

Austin Report Card

Food A-
Beer A
Walkability B
Cost B-
Weather A
Parks B+
Activities B+
Overall B+

We’d heard great things about Austin, so when we were at a loss of what city to go to for the end of the year we thought: “When else would we ever live in Texas?” and went for it. Initially we were going to go right after Denver, but we swapped it for Minneapolis in order to avoid those Northern winters.

Austin is known for many things, most notably music, but their barbecue and Tex Mex rank highly as well. We were not disappointed with the food scene we encountered which ran the gamut from the standards (chili, barbecue, Mexican) to Indian, Chinese, and Greek. [Check out our post solely on beer and food for some of our favorites!] While we didn’t get to as many breweries as we have in previous cities, we visited a handful all with really solid brews – Jester King, Live Oak, and Hops and Grain to name a few. While those were all great, the real star of the beer scene for us was Craft Pride, a Texas-only beer bar on Rainey street with more options than we can name and a taste for every palate.

Austin gave us some amazing weather the short time we were there, and we loved living right on Lady Bird Lake (aka the Colorado River).Unfortunately Snickers didn’t like running in the grass very much because there were a lot of burrs that got stuck in her paws, but she loved splashing around in the lake after a run.While there weren’t a lot of parks around, a quick drive could get you into nature.  We did like the couple of hikes we went on, but the terrain wasn’t variable enough and the trails weren’t accessible enough to get in a weekday run. We definitely missed the terrain of Oregon and Colorado and even our bi-weekly trail runs in Minneapolis. Austin is fairly walkable and we were able to easily access downtown, South Congress, and East Austin from our location, but you definitely need a car to really get around.

Would we go back? Absolutely! We would love to experience some of the music scene that we just didn’t get around to while we were there and it was just an all-around cool city. Would we live there? Maybe! We really liked the weather and the vibe, but we’ve heard the summers can be brutally hot and humid.

[We didn’t take a lot of photos the last few weeks here, so enjoy some of our favorites]

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Easy Tiger

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Pedernales Fall State Park

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Food and Beer in Austin

A quick rundown of places we’ve enjoyed in Texas.

Food

  • Casino el Camino – good burgers and spicy wings. A bit of a “metal” vibe, but really enjoyable.
  • Polvos – boozy margaritas, hit or miss on food
  • Curra’s – solid Mexican food; try the avocado margarita
  • Texas Chili Parlor – very meaty chili, try the XX and also the green chili
  • Micklethwait Craft Meat – seriously delicious barbecue! Skip the line for Franklin and head here
  • Cenote – great breakfast/brunch spot in East Austin
  • Cuvee – nice coffee shop on the East side; interesting automated pour over machines
  • Easy Tiger – neat patio and great cheese board! Plus a pretty solid beer menu
  • Bangers – 30 house made brats and over 100 beers on the menu! Get the beer float and a pupwurst for your furry friend!

Beer

  • Blue Owl – sour mashed beers, tasting-style menu
  • Jester King – a bit of a drive but worth it, extensive beer menu
  • Live Oak – solid German-style beers
  • Craft Pride – drafthouse with Texas only beers; really diverse menu
  • Hops and Grain – tucked away in a warehouse on the East side

McKinney Roughs Nature Park

We took advantage of the good weather during our last weekend in Austin to get outside and do a little hiking. We went on a Saturday and practically had the place to ourselves; it might’ve been because the day was overcast and humid or because it was the weekend before Christmas, but we weren’t complaining. Also, we should note that while it was 78 degrees that day, the following day had a 50 degree swing and didn’t get above 38 so we’re experiencing drastic temperature changes along with the rest of the country.

McKinney Roughs is located about 20 miles east of downtown Austin and has miles of hiking and equestrian trails. The entrance fee is $5/person, but we lucked out going on a day where they weren’t able to access the system so we got in for free. We hiked the Pine Ridge Trail to the Cypress Trail; it wound its way through a pine forest and meandered along the Lower Colorado River. The terrain was very different than what we experienced in Hill Country at Pedernales Falls – much less rocky and more pine than scrub grass.

The trails weren’t very long, but we got in a good 4 miles and took some time to let Snickers play in the river. She’s come a long way in her relationship with water since we introduced her to the Pacific Ocean back in January! Our favorite part (and her least favorite) was when a herd of cows came down to drink across the river and she proceeded to growl and stare at them for a good 10 minutes.

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Hiking McKinney Roughs (alt title: we didn’t sleep well the night before)

All in all, it was a perfect way to get out of the city and spend a Saturday. And what Matt and Beth hike would be complete without a stop for some suds? We ended our day at Live Oak Brewing, which is located near the airport. They have a pretty solid rotation of traditional German style beers; we went with the Big Bark Amber, Liberation IPA, Schwarzbier (a black lager), and the Oaktoberfest. All were smooth and mild and perfect for drinking outside on a warm winter day.

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Life Lately

For better or worse, we’ve fallen into a bit of a routine here in Austin. Matt has been working from home the majority of the time, which has been great, but also makes it very easy to forego going out to dinner or a show in lieu of popcorn and West Wing on the couch. Regardless, we’ve been able to do quite a bit of exploring and have found some great restaurants, walking places, and even a yoga studio [seriously, if you are in Austin and looking for a stretchy, sweaty, intense workout – check them out! We always leave a bit sore and drenched in sweat.]

We spent Thanksgiving here in Austin just the three of us (because Snickers counts), and it was great. We had a very leisurely day of sunning ourselves, cooking, and gorging ourselves. The weather was amazing that day – upper 70s and sunny – so we spent some time at the pool; quite the juxtaposition from the snowy pictures Beth and Casey sent us from Thorp! We made a relatively modest dinner all from scratch – even the bread for the stuffing! – and just enjoyed our time together. While we love our families, the quiet holidays together are some of our favorites.

We also went up to Chicago for Matt’s company holiday party. Coming from Texas I was not prepared for the snow and cold. The party was at a local winery and we enjoyed getting to mingle with his coworkers and put some faces to names. We might have imbibed a little too heavily and nursed hangovers the day after, but snuggling up in a hotel while the snow falls and blankets the city is pretty nice too. They got their first snowfall while we were there, and there’s just something really magical about big, fluffy flakes against a backdrop of twinkly Christmas lights.

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Looking a little “sister wives” – it might be time for a haircut

Matt stayed in Chicago for work after the party and I came back to Austin, welcomed by 75 degree, sunny weather. My parents were in town so we ate our way around. Since I was working they were mostly on their own, but we met up in the evenings for food. Ralph used to come to Austin for work back in the 90s so he suggested we go to the Oasis on Lake Travis for dinner one night to watch the sunset over the lake. We got there after the sun had mostly set, unfortunately, but the sky was lit up with flames and the view was still pretty spectacular. They also headed up to Waco to see Magnolia Market since they apparently watch a lot of HGTV; per them – “it was nice to see if you’ve got a free day with no agenda, but if it’s your destination it’s not worth the drive.” We did some walking around East Austin and Lady Bird Lake and just had some easy days. I think they loaded up on just as much chili, Tex Mex, barbecue, and margaritas in their week here as Matt and I have; food is definitely the best way to enjoy a city!

We’ve got one more week here and we’re hoping to catch a show (Matt the Electrician is playing so that’s our goal), eat more food, and drink more beer.