Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Golden Aspens and Breakfast at a Rocky Mountain Ranch

Last weekend my family drove up to the Durango, Colorado area to see the incredible golden aspen flecked mountains and visit a very special little ranch. I witnessed some of the most stunning autumn sights.

The family- owned ranch where we stayed- James Ranch- is a beautiful place. It is set on a strip of land nestled in the valley, red rock, pine and aspen looming over the grassy pastures, where the cows graze near several small blue lakes.  

But it really is so much more than just a pretty place. The James' family has worked very hard to create a ranch founded on respect, health and cooperation. They care about their animals, their land, and the food that they produce. And they are dedicated to good quality.

Being a vegetarian, it may seem strange that I praise a place renowned for its grass fed beef. But I believe that as a vegetarian by choice, it is my job to educate myself about more sustainable and humane alternatives in the meat industry and share the alternatives with meat eaters. The members of the James' family have proven to be good stewards of the land, and I believe that the time and energy that they have put into finding healthy ways of running their ranch, should be celebrated.  

But don't just take my word for it. If you visit you will see the happy cows and chickens roaming free in the beautiful pastures. And visit the the charming Jame's Ranch Market to buy colorful squash and tomatoes grown in the rich organic soil, golden yolk eggs, and an assortment of wonderful cheeses. I think I might just build a house there and move in :)

The ranch is surrounded by some incredible aspen and pine mountains. And I feel so lucky that my family visited at the perfect perfect time. Standing in a grove of aspens fully ablaze is indescribable. Even though we were not able to stay long, we fit in two amazing hikes.

The first day we decided to head out to Goulding Creek trail after enjoying a great breakfast while gazing out the expansive cottage windows that framed the red rock, the pastures and the chickens wandering with their guardian donkey amongst the pine trees.

I was in love with the trail at first sight. It wound its way through aspen and oak groves at the base of the mountain and worked its way up, up, up. The lighting was just right so that every leaf on every tree was like a piece of stained glass.

But the best thing was the panoramic view of the painted yellow mountainsides against the distant deep purple mountains and cerulean blue skies. Even though we did not reach the very end of the trail, we were able to walk through the meadows in the canyon after summiting the first peak, said to be a haven for deer and elk.

I thought nothing could top the Goulding Creek hike. But on our second day in Colorado we traveled to a hiking trail much different in nature, but equally stunning and awe inspiring.

Before our second hike at Purgatory trail, we had another great breakfast utilizing lovely James' Ranch apples and farm fresh eggs. I watched magpies perching on the fence and a happy barn cat walk by with her morning's catch. The slow pace was something I really cherished.

Instead of hiking up that day, we began hiking down. The trail took us the opposite direction towards the river valley. On one side in the distance, the bald Engineer's Peak and in front a series of rolling mountains with the tallest aspens reaching out of the shadow of the valley into the light.

Standing in the meadow, approaching the river, surrounded by mountains was spectacular. On one side the white thin trucks of the aspens rose like candlesticks with a single flame still lit atop each. On the other side, the tapers were buried in darkness, as if a breath of air moving through the canyon extinguished all the flames, ready for winter.

The river was flowing with clear water. Fallen leaves skimmed the surface as their shadows danced across the river rocks, like butterflies. Hidden behind white tree trunks, we made out the silhouettes of deer climbing the steep mountainside.

I can't wait to go back. The Durango area is definitely one of my favorite areas. Everything from the vast wilderness to the narrow gauge train sounding it's whistle in the crisp night. It is a great place to be.

Root Vegetable Hash with Farm Fresh Eggs
makes about 4 servings

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion
5 golden yellow beets
8 rainbow carrots
3 parsnips
4 small potatoes (red or Yukon gold)
salt and pepper
4 fresh eggs

1. Peel and chop all of the root vegetables and onion. Heat a large skillet over medium-high and add the oil. Add all of the root vegetables and onion and toss to coat them in the oil. Cook until they begin to caramelize, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Using a large spoon, create 4 "wells" in the root vegetable hash (The bottom of the skillet should show). Crack 1 egg into each well and continue to cook until the egg is set and to your desired doneness.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque Du Souffle :)

Triple Apple Pancake (GF)
makes about 4 servings

1/2 stick butter
2 medium sized apples, thinly sliced
3 large eggs
3/4 cup skim milk
1/2 cup gluten free flour blend
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Melt butter in a 8 by 8 inch pan. While butter is melting, slice apples. When butter is melted, add apple slices. Return to oven until butter sizzles. Do not let brown.
2. While butter and apples are in the oven, mix eggs, milk, flour, white sugar, vanilla, salt, xanthan gum and cinnamon in a large bowl. It's ok for the flour to be a little lumpy. Pour batter over the apples. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Serve with apple slices simmered in apple molasses (apple cider boiled down until thick and oh-so- apple-y- more on this in a future post)

Recipe slightly adapted from AMYMLE on Spark Recipes


  1. I would love to try that Root Vegetable Hash and the Triple Apple Pancake! It would be nice to eat after a long walk in the trail at our favorite ranch. By the way, the river flowing with clear water sounds like total bliss! Can you go fishing there? Because at our ranch, they having fishing gear and equipment we can use.

    Rodger Ciliberto

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I visited the website linked to your name. The Preserves at Walnut Springs also look really nice and beautiful. I have some relatives who live in hill country. I can imagine the ranch is a great place to be!