21 09 2015

We visited Fairbanks with the sole purpose of seeing the Northern Lights. We essentially planned around a clear (no clouds) and dark night (new moon) and obsessively monitored the UoA forecaster. Our planning and timing paid off. At around 11pm, we drove up to Ester Dome and by midnight, we were rewarded with an amazing light show.




It was incredible to see, and the images do not do it any justice. It was awe inspiring and almost a spiritual moment for me. It’s just stunning, and I highly recommend making the effort to see the lights. So worth it.

Where To Stay:
Once we saw the lights, we felt no need to actually stay in Fairbanks any longer. There just isn’t much to do… so we left and drove right on back to Anchorage, checked ourselves into the Sheraton and slept blissfully.

Where To Eat:
Despite not spending much time in Fairbanks, I feel like we gave the food a valiant try. I also feel that because Fairbanks is a college town (and bigger than some of the other places we visited), the food options were a lot better and more varied. We were amazed by the quality of the Thai food at Lemon Grass. It was such a good relief from all the American food we had been eating. The seafood curries feature Alaskan seafood and locally grown vegetables! How incredible is that? And the curries were delicious. My drunken noodles were flavorful and so good.
We also went to Jung Korean for some comforting Korean food – real banchan, bibimbap and galbi with lots of gojuchang. YUM. It made me so happy.

Fairbanks is definitely one of the best places in the entire world to view the Aurora Borealis. However, during the day time, there isn’t much to do except for recharge until it’s dark enough for more sky gazing. We did visit the above-ground section of the Alaska pipeline, and even contemplated driving out to the Chena Hot Springs. But once we caught the lights, there was nothing keeping us there, so we quickly left the next morning.

I’ll be wrapping up this travel series from Anchorage and will include some Alaska travel tips. Stay tuned!

Talkeetna and Denali

17 09 2015

After Seward, we headed into Alaska’s interior, where the landscape changed from coastal marine to lush forests and then eventually tundra. David and I couldn’t stop ooh-ing and aah-ing over the landscape. Every bend in the road, every turn was a postcard perfect landscape.


We did a couple of hikes in and around Denali Park, but to truly explore the interior of the park, you need to take the bus deep into the park. From there you can hop on and off at anytime. We were able to see many grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and ptarmigan on our trip.

View from Mt. Healy Overlook


Rock Creek


Grizzly Bear

The park also employs sled dogs, so we visited the kennels. I SO badly wanted to take one of the pups home, they are just so cute and friendly and intelligent!


And what’s a visit to Denali without actually seeing Mt. Denali? She is coy and elusive and teased us multiple times throughout our visit. Short of flying up to the top, most visitors never get to see Denali. She is shrouded in clouds and fog 70% of the time. But we were so lucky and our patience was rewarded, when on our last day, she revealed herself to us. At first she seemed like a mirage in the distance, but it was confirmed when all the other tourists also stopped to gawk and take pictures. Looming at over 20,000 feet, she is the tallest point in North America – and she is majestic and deserving of praise.

Where To Stay
We stayed a night in Talkeetna to make our drive more manageable at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. The grounds here are beautiful, and on a clear day, you can see Mt. Denali from the bar deck. The rooms are large and clean, and the beds and linens are pretty comfortable. It’s definitely one of the better lodging options we had while in Alaska. This lodge is a major stop for a lot of the cruise lines, so don’t be surprised to run into that crowd at the bar. The hotel dining options are also pretty decent, as seen in my half eaten smoked salmon spread (my copycat recipe coming soon!).

We also stayed at the McKinley Chalet, which was about 5 minutes from the Denali park entrance. This spot is actually owned by one of the cruise lines, but you’d be surprised by the quality of the hotel. The lobby looks promising, but the rooms are in need of attention and the hotel restaurants are awful. I had the worst onion soup and David’s reindeer meatloaf was nothing to write home about. It’s a shame, because the property itself is nicely situated, right along the Nenana River and across the street from really great food options (see below).

Where To Eat
In Talkeetna, the Lodge has decent dining options. If you venture into the town center, I highly recommend the Talkeetna Roadhouse. The food is great and the bakery is even better. Definitely get the Frosty cinnamon bun or 2, and pack leftovers as a snack for your hike.


Once in the Denali area, we visited 2 establishments so often, they thought we were locals! For a great bar and a good time, stop by Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse. The beer selection is awesome, and despite being the end of the season (and many beers were unavailable), our bartender/waiter walked us through recommendations based on our individual beer preferences. The pizza is also delicious. On one visit, we ordered the Deadliest Catch pizza, which is a 17″ pie topped with 1.5 pounds of Alaskan snow crab. It was stunning. I’ve never liked snow crab until eating it in Alaska – sweet and succulent and so worth the meat to shell ratio.

For breakfast and lunch, we stopped by the Black Bear Coffee House no less than 5 times during our 3 day stay. The coffee is great, the cupcakes are really delicious, and the soup/salad options really hit the spot (a good break from the heavy and fried fish and chips we had been eating). We did have a rather unpleasant apple cake thing, though I will owe the bad taste and texture to the fact that it was vegan/gf<?>.

More photos to come, when we finally catch the Northern Lights! Thanks for reading!


The Kenai Peninsula

14 09 2015

Our first day in Alaska was spent driving from Anchorage to Seward (pronounced soo-werd), along the Turnagain Arm and through the Kenai Peninsula. This is by far one of the most beautiful coastal drives I have ever done. It might tie with the Amalfi coast drive, but beats the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway 1 by a hair (being Californian, that’s basically treason). It’s stunning, especially in the early fall when the aspens and alders start to turn color. And if you’re really lucky, you might be able to catch a few beluga whales playing in the high tide.
On the way to Seward, there are several points to stop and take in the scenery. You can also veer a bit off the Seward highway to do some additional exploring. We took a few turns off the main road and stumbled onto 2 mini hikes. The first being the Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood:
DSC_4557We started this trail near the Crow Creek Mine – it provides the shortest distance to the hand tram and avoids all the other tourists from the Alyeska Resort. The cool hand tram swings about 100 feet over Glacier Creek – if you’re lucky, other folks will help pull you across, else you may be stuck (like we were) pulling yourself. The trail also includes a number of lovely bridges and gorges, and was the perfect introduction to the flora and fauna in the area.

We took another turn off the Seward Highway onto the Portage Highway, and our mini hike took us right to the base of several glaciers:

Byron Glacier
DSC_6228Byron Glacier Ice Cave

View from base of Byron Glacier toward Portage Valley

View of Portage Glacier from Portage Lake

These glaciers are enormous in person and the swirls and crevasses are mesmerizing. As it’s still summer and the ambient temperature is somewhat warm, you can see the glaciers melt and form these caves… I would not recommend climbing into the caves, for fear of them collapsing (though I tend to be more paranoid than most), but I did snap a few photos.

Once we arrived in Seward, we went to view Exit Glacier – the same one President Obama visited. This trail has clear markers that show how the glacier has receded in the last century – very tangible evidence of the effects of climate change and global warming on the glaciers. The valley below Exit Glacier is beautiful, and you will likely spot a moose or bear on this short hike. If you are a bit more ambitious and have more time, take the trek to the Harding Icefield, which is the source for all of the glaciers in the area.

Close Up of Exit Glacier

Valley below Exit Glacier

Our remaining days in Seward were spent on a boat, viewing the marine life in and around Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords Park. This was an incredible experience – and we were so lucky to see porpoises, whales, all manner of birds and eagles, and other sea animals. While out at sea, I felt so small midst the vast sea, enormous tidewater glaciers, and the marine animals surrounding us. It was all so stunning and beautiful.

Seward Harbor

DSC_4731Humpback Whale – we might consider a photography career at NatGeo if it wasn’t recently bought by Fox =(
DSC_6118Some seals chilling in front of the Aialik Glacier, as the glacier cracked and creaked

The cutest little otters hanging out in the water

Where To Stay
Being a small town, options are pretty limited. We stayed at the historic Seward Hotel, which is just 5 minutes from the harbor and walking distance to the ‘downtown’ area. While a bit old, the rooms are cute, comfortable and clean.

What To Eat
Seward is famous for its halibut, specifically the halibut fish and chips, so of course we had to try it. And boy, we weren’t disappointed. We stopped by Thorn’s Showcase Lounge and Salmon Bake Restaurant to taste test the halibut – the fish is only lightly coated (as it should be!) and fried to a crisp – the halibut is flaky but still moist and sweet. Another Alaskan specialty is seafood chowder – thick chunks of halibut and salmon and shellfish, suspended in a thick, creamy, roux-based chowder. Thorn’s won in both categories. But at Salmon Bake, we also had the batter friend prawns – quite possibly the best we’ve ever had – crunchy, sweet, succulent pieces of prawns that rivaled lobster meat. Unfortunately, we came back a second time only to find that the prawns were no longer available, as it was the end of the season.

Meal at Thorns: seafood chowder, fish and chips, and steamed mussels. Super tasty.

For dessert, this little gelato and fudge shop called Sweet Darlings, was just down the street from our hotel and was a sweet way to end the night.

Like I said earlier, Seward is a small town, and options are pretty limited. Our general rule is to stay away from the extra touristy places (such as the joints right by the harbor), and try to find the local favorites. TripAdvisor or Yelp are great starting points. And of course, asking the locals (even if they are seasonal temps) always results in good choices.

We had such a great time in Seward. And as it’s a seasonal town (open only 6 months out of the year), we were really lucky to have the experiences we did. During the summer, the salmon make their run from the ocean up through Seward and the Kenai Peninsula to their nesting grounds. The whale migration is also occurring, as orcas and humpbacks flock to the area to eat and fatten up. The cruise ships come in droves during the summer, but their frequency decreases once September hits. We visited in early September, and things were winding down. The seasonal temp workers were getting ready to head back to Anchorage and other parts of the country. The shops were getting ready to close. Even the animals had mostly left for warmer waters. And yet during our 2.5 day stay in Seward, we were really lucky to hit everything on our bucket list. We did not get a chance to go halibut/salmon fishing as originally planned, but after understanding the pricing structure of fishing, gutting/processing, and shipping – it was probably better that we didn’t. If you get a chance to, I would highly recommend it, as other tourists have praised the catch.

Fish and chips, while delicious, can get old fast. Luckily, there’s a Safeway market in town, so you can prep your own (healthier) meals as needed. I also highly recommend hiking the surrounding area – hitting Caines Head and as many of the glaciers as possible. It’s one of the best ways to get to know the area and see nature up close and at its grandest. Speaking of up close encounters, I saw several kayakers out in Resurrection Bay, and they were able to get really close to the whales. We even saw a whale spray through its blowhole right next to a kayaker. It’s a bit terrifying to me, but if you’re courageous and like the water, perhaps try kayaking to get around.

We’re headed to Denali next, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading!


1 09 2015

I’ve had a fantastic summer so far. It’s been filled with lovely flowers, lots of time spent outdoors, plenty of food with friends and family, and it’s just getting better and better.


I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is coming up in a few days for us. I’m SO excited.
From the National Geographic

I can hardly contain myself. In the meantime, I’ll on munch on these.

Herby Polenta Fries
I’ve tried polenta many times, and I have never quite grown fond of it. The same goes for grits – it’s a texture thing for me. Reminds me of the years I volunteered in a nursing home feeding the residents, where all delicious and nutritious foods were pulverized to a pulp to help older folks who couldn’t chew. So to help me get over that, I transformed an otherwise mushy polenta into lovely polenta fries. Everything tastes better when it’s fried – polenta is no exception. It’s cheesy and creamy and salty and crispy – and the herbs add a really nice flavor. Of course, you can bake the polenta fries for a less fatty version (and I’ve included directions below), but where’s the fun in that?

1 c polenta
4 c water
2 tbs butter
1/3 c parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (you can use whatever herbs you like, I just happen to like oregano + rosemary)
salt + pepper, to taste

In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil on high heat. Add a large pinch of salt. Gradually add the polenta, whisking to break any clumps. Reduce the heat to low and continue to whisk and simmer, until the polenta is thick and tender. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and the grated cheese, whisking to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Spray a brownie pan (8″x8″) or small baking dish of similar dimensions with cooking spray or olive oil. Pour the cooked polenta into the pan, using a spatula to smooth the top. Chill until set, at least a few hours or I prefer to do it over night. Once the polenta has set, remove the chilled polenta from the pan and cut into ‘fry’ shapes. I had a circular pan, so it’s not quite as ‘fry-like’, but to each their own.


To fry: You could deep fry these bad boys at 370°F submerged in 2″ of canola oil, but I decided just to pan fry a few polenta sticks at a time, turning occasionally to get an even brown on all sides. Either method will give you a lovely crust on the outside. Just make sure to drain on paper towels and keep warm until serving time.


To bake: Brush all sides of each polenta stick with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler and bake until golden brown. Rotate as needed to get an even browning. Should take 20 minutes total.

Once cooked, top with dried herbs and additional cheese if desired. Serve with a marinara sauce (or ketchup in a pinch). Enjoy.

This is a lovely appetizer or bar snack. I can see this being in heavy rotation as football season kicks off. It hits all the right notes and pairs so well with a cold brewsky.


Thanks for stopping by,

PS. In case you couldn’t guess, we’re headed to Alaska. From Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula then back up through Denali and Fairbanks. It’s going to be one heck of a trip, and you can be reassured that I’ll be sharing pictures and food and landmarks from our trip. I’ll be posting on my IG account as well, if you’re curious to follow.

Cleverness and Kindness

17 08 2015

“Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO + Founder. Princeton 2010 Commencement Speech.

I think this is a tough lesson for many millennials. Particularly here in the Bay Area, there are many gifted and very smart individuals. And yet the choices of these gifted individuals do not seem to have a net positive affect on the rest of society. There is still a huge divide between the poor and wealthy here. The poor continue to get muscled out of the Bay Area. Advancements for the poor (such as raising minimum wages and laws to protect low wage workers or after school academic programs at inner city schools) seem to be challenged and and de-funded every step of the way. You would think that with all the gifts and brains and technology in this area, we would have been able to solve some pretty fundamental social problems. I do love Jeff’s speech though. He poses the question to the graduating class of 2010 – “How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?”


Homemade Cold Brewed Coffee
Source: I love Kitchen Treaty’s blog entry
This is quite the trendy beverage right now, and I can see why. It’s delicious. The method reduces any kind of acrid/sour taste in the coffee, and it’s just so darn easy. However, I don’t think it warrants the ridiculous price tag that you’ll find in some parts of San Francisco, as it’s so easy to replicate at home. The following instructions create a concentrate that you can dispense and dilute as you see fit. For our household, a double-batch satisfies us for a week, and we drink coffee every weekday morning. Just remember to cover and refrigerate the concentrate until use.

Ingredients + Tools
1 c whole beans, freshly grounded [I used Peet’s Espresso Forte]
4 c filtered water
1-2 paper coffee filters
Funnel or strainer/sieve

In a large container, mix together the ground coffee beans and 4 cups of filtered water. Cover and allow to steep for at least 12 hours. Place a paper coffee filter in a funnel or strainer/sieve and place that over another clean container. Pour the coffee/water mixture through the filter, and watch the liquid stream through. I like to use a ladle or the back of a spoon to press out more liquid from the beans. Toss the coffee beans and paper filter. Keep the liquid gold.


To consume, in a cup with some ice, add concentrate and cold water. I like to do a 1:1 ratio of concentrate to water, though for David, who likes it stronger, prefers a blend closer to 1.5:1, favoring the coffee concentrate. You can also add milk/cream and your sweetener of choice to your individual cup. Being Vietnamese, I obviously prefer condensed milk, but a bit of half and half or whole milk works too.


I find cold brewed to be so convenient and satisfying. Every time you need a coffee fix, there’s a ready and steady dose of it in your fridge. All you need to do is dispense, dilute with water, and add your sugar/dairy (if you’d like), and enjoy. Ahh, soo refreshing.

I have also found that I can make a “affaux-gato” using the concentrate… here you see 2 scoops of Talenti gelato and 3 tbs of concentrate. If you blend this, you’ll have something that resembles a Frappacino from Starbucks. In either straight or blended form, it’s a delicious dessert and perfect for the hot temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in the Bay.

After all this caffeine, I am suuper wired. There is a LOT of caffeine here, and it’s all so tasty! I’m sure I will pay the price for this later tonight, when I find myself tossing and turning in bed instead of getting some shut eye. So worth it though.

Thanks for stopping by!

PS. Over the weekend, the NYT published a rather scathing article about the work culture at Amazon. While I have never worked at Amazon, it appears this article directly contradicts the commencement speech above. I don’t know Jeff personally and I realize that actions speak louder than words, but I would hope that a man who could give so compelling of a story/speech would not condone the types of behavior of the unkind bosses described in that NYT article.

Personality and Weddings

15 08 2015

We finally received our wedding photos, and they just bring me right back to a (nearly) perfect day. I say nearly perfect because I wish I had more time on that day to individually sit down and catch up with each and every single one of our friends and family who made the trip to visit us. It was such a happy day, but it went by way too quickly. What a blur – but thank goodness for photos to help us relive it. I promised a few months back that I would share some of the details and how we infused our own personality into the wedding – so here goes.

It’s your vision.
Often times, brides and grooms have to do a lot of stakeholder management – meaning, they have to put up with everyone and (especially) their moms’ 2 cents of input. Stakeholder management is no fun, especially when the feedback (though well-intentioned) is unsolicited, unproductive or does not improve your vision. The vision belongs to the bride and groom only. So, figure out what that vision is and keep your eyes on the prize. No one should detract you from that vision of what your day should be.

Enjoying the taco bar

Our sweetheart table

Do you.
The easiest way to incorporate your personality is to showcase things you like and things that represent you. Do YOU. David and I like to eat. Like a lot. Our waistlines and double chins show it. We also pride ourselves in being a really good host/hostess (our house parties are renowned). And so it was vital that our food be good and plentiful. Between the ceremony and dinner, we hired a taco truck to serve delicious tacos on fluffy homemade tortillas. At the reception, we served a bunch of appetizers and finger foods before dinner. Dinner was a traditional Vietnamese 8-course meal featuring our favorite seafood – Chilean sea bass, lobster, abalone, shrimp, etc. Dessert included our wedding cake (raspberry, lychee, rose – inspired by Pierre Hermé’s classic Ispahan) and a dreamy dessert bar with macarons, burnt almond cake from my favorite bakery, and a number of other treats. We made sure the menu reflected us – we didn’t go out of our comfort zone or try something different.  We did what we know and are good at. And we personally think, we pulled off a super fun and very personalized reception.


Tend towards being detail-oriented and thoughtful.
The little details will help your guests feel especially welcomed, and that they were more than just an after thought. I realize that your wedding is for YOU, but the best part about the wedding is getting to hang out with your closest friends and family. You want to celebrate that. Because we had a large guest size (over 400ppl!), we needed to make it easy for folks to mingle, socialize, not feel alienated, and felt like they mattered. To that objective, we sprinkled lots of activities throughout the reception to keep everyone entertained. We had lots of games – raffle prizes, board games, a scavenger hunt, a photobooth, homemade coloring books for the kids, a video game booth, a giant Jenga set, a big puzzle. This encouraged folks to move about, talk to each other, and not feel bored or trapped. Of course, nothing was forced or mandated, and folks could choose in what way they wanted to participate.

Our raffle prizes. 07Details_AnDa_093

In addition to games, we intentionally decorated the venue with little details that our guests would find thoughtful. For example, we had check-in tables where ‘receptionists’ would look up guest names and escort them to their tables. To designate a side, we used our own parents’ wedding photos to delineate Bride vs. Groom. The guests felt welcomed while ooh-ing over our parents 70’s/80’s styled wedding photos. We had a slideshow that purposely included at least one image of each of our guests. Again, this showed that we thought about each of them while preparing for the big day.

Photos of our parents

You don’t have to go overboard with the details. A lot of the games we had at the wedding were homemade with nothing more than our brains, Microsoft Word, some cardstock and a printer. Our scavenger hunt involved our guests taking photos of various things and people at the wedding, and posting the images to social media using our hashtag (#davidandanh2015). The best photos won prizes. And the guests who completed the entire hunt also won prizes. We came up with games, designed the game card, printed out the rules, cut the sheets – lots of details. We also had to figure out how to showcase these guest photos at the wedding – nothing an online social media aggregator couldn’t fix. We were thoughtful and resourceful in how we approached these details, and didn’t end up breaking the bank or over working ourselves.

I had such a great time at our wedding. And seeing that our guests are still talking about our wedding more than 6 months later, I am going to assume they had a good time too :) I wish I could do it all over again. All the pretty details. All 400 of my closest friends and family. All the delicious food. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Thanks for reading!

PS. To see more pictures, you can check out our Flickr page here and here.

Camping 101

13 08 2015

I am now officially married to a big Eagle scout. This means that we are always prepared for our camping trips, and our methods have been optimized to ensure we are comfortable yet still efficient. I’d like to share a few planning tips that I’ve picked up from my very own Eagle scout husband. Please note these tips are for car camping, and that different rules apply to backpacking.


Our Tips + Tricks

1. Have 1 or 2 designated plastic bins loaded with your camping essentials (see below). This is to ensure that everything is organized and packed in one place, and you aren’t scrambling to find things last minute. These bins will also help you pack the car and eventually the bear box, once you arrive at the camp site. Replenish these bins as needed before each trip – but otherwise, give yourself a pat on the back for your foresight.


2. Always plan your menus ahead of time and do as much food prep ahead of time as possible. You do NOT want to spend your time cooking at camp, so I find that making the food ahead of time, and doing some smart planning helps make this more efficient. Pack out smaller portions of snacks in ziplocs for hikes. I like to pre-marinate various meats and freeze them in ziploc bags – these become bricks of ice that not only keep the cooler cool, but will also defrost in time to grill for dinner. I also like packing frozen stews (see below!)/chilis – all you do is reheat! Simple as that. If possible, pre-wash and chop veggies ahead of time, and stick them into ziploc baggies. Keep breakfasts simple, with just instant ramen or bacon/eggs/toast. Lunch for us is usually something packable/portable yet filling for the long hikes, such as a meaty Vietnamese sandwich, some fruit, and granola. Dessert consists of (obviously) smores, instant cookie dough pizookies, and cut fruit. Nothing too fancy, but definitely satisfying and very tasty. Whatever you plan on eating, make sure the ingredients are versatile and work across multiple meals – this helps you reduce what you have to buy and pack.

3. There is a sweet spot when it comes to packing. Pack too much and you risk hauling that heavy stuff home with you and wasting a ton of gas. Pack too little and you’ll find yourself uncomfortable or having to stop in a nearby town or general store for provisions. I tend to err on the side of slightly over packing (especially with food and clothing), as I’d rather be warm and full, than hungry and cold.

4. Read the park rules, respect the park rules and keep your space in tact, if not better than when you arrived. My husband is giving me an ironic look right now, as I don’t usually like authority or following rules… but this one is important. The rules are in place for your safety and the safety of the habitat and the animals that live there. So please, follow the rules. Additionally, so many times we find that folks trash their camp sites, and it’s such a shame. Camping is a cheapish activity, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value or that it’s ok to trash. We can all work to stop the tragedy of the commons.


Packing List
These are the things we normally have in our bin. Yes, some of these are ‘luxuries’ and not absolutely necessary, but we find that the amenities make for a more comfortable trip – which makes all the difference in the world after a long day’s hike. We’ve also included links to items we absolutely love and cannot live without, in case you are interested in purchasing.

Personal Items
Sleeping bag + pillows
Sleeping pad
Folding camp chairs
Bright and small flashlight + lantern (to light work area and also to be hung inside tent)
Good quality hiking boots or shoes
Comfortable shoes or sandals for around the campsite
Personal toiletries + hand sanitizer + toilet paper
Ear plugs
Spare batteries
Daypack or backpack and larger duffel or suitcase
Water canteen or durable water bottle
Light weight, fast drying and versatile clothing
Poncho or other lightweight rain gear (or use a plastic garbage bag)
Warm underwear or thermals
Swimming gear – trunks, swimsuit, etc.
Personal towel
Utility pocket knife
First aid kit
Spare carabiners + rope
Entertainment – deck of cards, board game, book, etc.


Kitchen Items
1-2 coolers + ice
Versatile personal bowl for eating (we each use a large plastic pho bowl)
Eating utensils – chopsticks, forks, spoons, knife (use pocket knife)
Mugs (for coffee + other non-water beverages – ahem, bourbon)
Cooking utensils – tongs, spatula, ladle
Chef’s knife with sheath
Plastic cutting mats
1 medium pot with lid & 1 frying pan
Small tabletop gas stove + extra butane
Matches or lighter
Large garbage bags to keep packs dry in case it rains and to help with clean up
Dish soap + sponge
Container to store water, acts as tub for dishes, face washing, teeth brushing, etc.
Simple spice kit (salt, pepper, fish sauce, Sriracha, soy sauce, sugar, etc.)
Roll of paper towels
A few aluminum trays + foil wrap
Long thick skewers – good for skewering meats and as marshmallow sticks

All the raw ingredients to support your menu
High energy snacks – nuts, granolas, dried fruit, etc.
Packable fruit – bananas + oranges are great in preventing cramps + constipation, and aid in hydration
Booze – helps you stay warm at night; also acts as a nice sleep aid

Wine Braised Boar Stew
Adapted from: Epicurious
Stews are great for camping trips – they are quick to heat, go down easy, and are hearty/meaty enough to satisfy even the hungriest camper. We still have about 30+ pounds of boar meat left, so I put it to use on our latest camping trip to Yosemite. This stew is aromatic and complex – filled with unexpected warm spices that really enhance the boar flavor. Don’t be alarmed by the anchovies – it adds great umami without being fishy. I’ve also made a few tweaks to the original recipe, chief among them is adding some veggies and a bit of cocoa, which I think pairs really nicely (in a subtle way) with the warm spices and red wine. And of course, you don’t need to go camping to make this – so enjoy!

3 lbs bone-in wild boar shoulder meat (cut down for stew; you could easily use lamb or beef here too)
1 large onion, diced (I used red, but normal yellow is fine)
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprig of fresh basil
1 cup red wine (I used a Zin I had been drinking)
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1 tin of anchovies
2 carrots, diced
1 turnip, diced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking

In a large dutch oven pot or other heavy-bottom pot on high heat, sear the boar meat chunks. Do this in batches as needed to avoid crowding the pot, as you’ll end up steaming/boiling the meat as opposed to getting a good sear. Once all seared, place all boar meat back into pot, and add a bit of olive oil and onions, sauting until the onions are soft. Then add the garlic, but be careful not to burn. Add the tomatoes and all their juices, along with the bay leaves, sprigs of rosemary and basil. Add the wine. Bring to a boil and stir in the cocoa powder. Add the remaining spices.

Boar Stew 1

Once at a rolling boil, turn down the heat and allow the pot to simmer with the pot lid on the entire time. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom to prevent any burning/sticking. Add a half cup of water periodically and as needed throughout the cooking process to keep an inch or so of liquid in the pot. Cook for at least 2 hours, but longer will be required for a tender/fall-off-the-bone texture. The stew will thicken over time. This is an optional step but once the meat is tender, remove all the meat from the pot and strain the remaining liquid. Return all the meat and the strained liquid to the pot and add the carrots and turnips, then bring to a boil. This makes for a ‘cleaner’ and a bit more sophisticated stew, without all the gunk (delicious bits of tomato and anchovy). If you don’t mind the “gunk”, skip the straining, and just add the carrots and turnips straight to the pot then bring to a boil, cooking until fork tender. I add the veggies at this stage to prevent the veggies from becoming soggy, limp, lifeless things – we want to retain the texture and sweetness of the carrots and turnip. Taste test the stew and adjust seasoning as needed. Fish out the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and stems of the rosemary and basil. Serve with a crusty loaf of French or Italian bread.

Boar Stew 2

What’s really lovely is that during the cooking process, that meat absorbs all the cooking liquids and slowly breaks down and darkens in color. The end result is this silky broth that enrobes the tender pieces of meat. The flavors have had a few hours to meld in the broth, which would benefit from some bread or perhaps a side of thick mashed potatoes.

Boar Stew 3

I don’t have any photos of us eating the stew, as we packed all this up into tupperware that was then frozen and brought to camp. Just trust me when I say, that this is amazing.

Hope you enjoyed this entry and see you next time!

PS. Images were taken by me in Yosemite, Big Basin, and Sequoia National, respectively.


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