Monthly Archives: April 2013

Two Days in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of five most popular national parks in US ( Great Smoky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Olympic National Park being the other four).

And it is my favoritest park ever. I simply love looking at the valley with the river flowing through, the monolithic El Capitan and the magnificent Half dome. Sunset on Half Dome is one the prettiest sights in the national park. Situated in central California, about 3 – 4 hours drive from Bay Area, this is the national park for city slickers.It has meadows, waterfalls, giant Sequoia trees and starry nights. At any point in the Yosemite Valley, we saw folks cycling around, rafting in the river or hiking to the waterfalls. It was alive and buzzing. Spring and Summer are the most popular times as the weather is pleasant and the waterfalls are gushing; though I can imagine Fall being equally attractive.

Planning a trip

Yosemite National Park

We planned on the west and south park attractions of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. The north side of Yosemite are the beautiful Tuolumne meadows and Tioga Pass which Sunset magazine has crowned as the best spot to lose the crowds. But as it is open only from June thru November and is another hour – to hour and half further we skipped it. We only had the weekend in Yosemite as we had a Monday morning appointment in the French embassy for Schengen Visa so we didn’t really have a day to spare.

There are quiet a few options to stay inside the park from rustic cabins, campgrounds to elegant Ahwahnee; but they tend to be sold out during summer weekends. So plan early or stay near one of the entrances. If staying outside the park ensure that the lodging is really close to the park entrance else you will spend time driving back and forth instead of in the park. Being a popular park close to San Francisco and Bay Area the park sees a fair amount of visitors resulting in long entrance lines.

We went via Oakdale to the west entrance of the park and luckily didn’t encounter much traffic. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast (Falcons Nest) inside the park in West Yosemite which had most hospitable owners ever. More about this later.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park

This is the most visited place in the park and has a visitor center and wilderness center. Free shuttles are offered to most common points of interest – Bridal Veil Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Sentinel Bridge.

Yosemite National Park

This is the most crowded part of the park. Parking is hard. We enjoyed the hike up to and the mists from Bridal Veil falls but didn’t care about Yellowstone falls as they were very crowded.

Yosemite National Park

And the Tunnel view is not to be missed. This is the classic photo-op with the half dome in the distance and the bridal veil falls on the right. Plan it for late afternoon when the sun lights up the half dome.

El Capitan soars high above and you do see fair number of climbers on its face. The rafting in the river looked particular inviting but we had plans to go up to Glacier point for Sunset.

Glacier Point

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

To get away from the crowds and the day trippers, Glacier point is one the options. It’s about an hours drive from the valley.The ranger talk at Glacier point was one of the highlights of our trip. The sight of the valley below, the river, waterfalls and the setting sun over the half dome is surreal and is one experience you should not miss in the park. Most folks left after sunset, but this would be an awesome place to star gaze perched high above in the Sierra Nevada forest!

Falcons Nest B & B

Yosemite National Park

After the sunset we drove to our B & B. We were lost as the forest floor darkens post sunset and we couldn’t find the signs easily. We reached the B & B by 9:00 pm. Our plan was to check in and then go out for dinner. There were no restaurants around. We asked our hosts for nearest restaurants and everything would either be already closed or would be by the time we reached. As Donn explained “this ain’t Spain“. So plan meals or carry food along. He heated some south-western chicken chipotle soup and made us some PB& J. Yummm, after a long day.

The next morning, Kay, cooked us some fabulous breakfast. Cornmeal waffles, eggs, fresh fruit and coffee. It was served on their beautiful outdoor deck. It was a lovely morning and we lingered over breakfast exchanging travel tales and getting tips for the day ahead.

Mariposa Grove
Yosemite National Park

Near the south end of the park,this is another place which is quiet and not crowded. A bus takes you along the loop amongst century year old giant sequoia trees which are over 300 feet tall! I  was humbled in their presence. The trees are naturally fire resistant and have survived many a fires in their time.

After the tour, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco. We had a 7 am appointment the following morning and wanted to make sure we reached on time.

Yosemite National Park

The drive back was routine except for these beautiful windmills that dotted the road.

Yosemite is one park that I simply fell in love with. So much so that Vipul and I planned to retire as Forest Rangers here! If we lived in Bay area we would probably visit it every spring and fall! Two days are very short to visit the park – we hope to return again with a camper and stay for long. Some day, some fall day!

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Ambe Dal – Split Black Chickpeas and Raw Mango Salad

Ambe dal

On hot summer weekends there is less incentive to cook. But there is greater craving to eat something unique and cooling. Maharashtrian style Ambe dal made up of soaked black chickpeas dal and raw mango is one such salad that comes together quickly. Made with seasonal ingredients it packs protein and fiber.

Chickpea being ground

Raw mangoes add sourness to the salad while the chilies add heat. Paired with raw mango cooler it is a perfect snack. Mom used to make this and refrigerate this for after school snacking. Tangy and refreshing this was a filling snack.

Try it this spring or summer while raw mangoes are still in season!

Ambe dal dressing

Ambe Dal Recipe

  • 1 cup split black chickpeas ( channa dal )
  • 1/2 cup grated raw mango
  • 2 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander
  • 1-2 chilies finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon hing or asafoetida

To Garnish

  • Finely chopped coriander
  • Freshly grated coconut

1.Soak dal in  2-3  times water overnight or at least for 4- 5 hours. The dal will double in volume.

2. Drain the dal and coarsely grind it.

3. Mix with grated mango, coriander ,chilies and salt.

4. Heat oil in a small pan. Add hing and mustard seeds till they sizzle. Add this oil to the dal mix.  Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings (mainly salt, coriander, raw mango). Refrigerate for an hour or so.

Garnish with coriander or grated coconut. Serve cold with raw mango cooler or any mango drink.

Crater Lake National Park: A Deep Blue Lake In Volcanic Caldera

Crater Lake

When we had newly moved to Seattle in 2003, every year, we used to go on a long road trip on 4th of July weekend. Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies, coastal Oregon were visited with friends and their visiting families. Trip to Crater Lake National Park was the first such trip we took. A deep blue lake in the volcanic crater with crystal clear water surrounded by high cliff walls and towering pine trees. And friends to the mix and it has makings of an EPIC trip. A trip that you will never forget.

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We rented a 12 seater van from Redmond and set out on a long drive to Crater Lake on Friday evening. We had another group in a sedan.It was almost 2 am when we reached our rented house about an hour away from the National Park. There is limited lodging very close to the national park. And of course it is booked solid in summer and especially on long weekends. It’s hard to get last-minute reservations with 15 -16 people.

A day inside the Crater Lake National Park

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The next morning we woke up fairly late and then after a really late breakfast we headed to Crater Lake.  It was a beautiful sunny day and there was absolutely no one on the road. We reached the park post lunch time. We followed the rim drive and pulled over at several places to take in the breathtaking scenery. The deep blue water is mesmerizing. We hiked to the bottom to reach the shores of the lake.It was easy-going down but strenuous coming back up!

We sat on the boat jetty for quiet some time as no one wanted to go back up really.

The park offers a boat ride on the lake but you have to reach early to get the tickets. Scuba diving is also possible in the lake but you have to haul your gear all the way down ( and then back up). And since private boats are not allowed you have to dive with the park’s boat.

But these restrictions have ensured the lake is crystal clear, clean and pristine.

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After the hike we were all hungry. So we decided to go to the Lodge and have late lunch. There was some renovation and reconstruction work  going on, so we couldn’t really eat there. There were a couple of hot dog stands but they didn’t have any vegetarian option. Most of the us just had ice-cream and fries and such for lunch and were a bit grumpy for a while.

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We continued with the rim drive this time pulling over for snow fights. Yes, even in July you will find snow in this national park. It’s so awesome to have a snow fight under the sunny skies. We behaved like little kids with no regard whatsoever to what other folks may think!  Later in the evening we headed back to our vacation home to make a hearty dinner. Drinks, music, cards, singing and pav-bhaji! OMG it was insane.

White Water Rafting and Sunset at Oregon Coast 

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The next day we went white water rafting in the Umpqua river which was cool. We wore wetsuits as the water was still very cold. We went to a neat hole to dive into and had just a ball of a time in spite of the cold water.

Later we drove to the nearest beach (which was still a couple of hours drive) through beautiful valleys, across quaint bridges and rivers to watch the sunset. As with all beaches in pacific northwest it was cold and we had our jackets and sweaters on. In July. Yes. Really.

We drove back after dark and had another night of drinks,music, cards.

ATV on Sand Dunes

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Sand dunes and riding ATV’s on them was the agenda for last day. Towering sand dunes which shift every day based on winds,so tall that you cant see whats on the other side till you are the very top. They are almost vertical towards the top edge. Very exhilarating. . I was super thrilled till we got there and then was I was shit scared as a few friends who had come back earlier were injured. Some of us got stuck, others had their ATV’s toppled over.  We managed to go over to see  lakes, hidden valleys and pretty dessert landscape.

If you are in Southern Oregon then it is a must do. You don’t even need directions as you will see hoardings and ads all along the freeway.

After an adventurous ride on the sand dunes,it was time to head back to Seattle. It was a long drive back home from Florence, Oregon to Seattle. Most of us dozed on the way back while others just chatted away.

It was an EPIC trip. It marked beginning of  annual fourth of July getaways till our master trip planner moved from Seattle to Bay Area.  But its awesome to remember those fun times especially now that we are older and scattered all the way around the world. One day,I hope we get to have another memorable trip with old friends and their new kids in tow!

Tropical Summer Treat: Mango Coconut Popsicles

Popsicles

What do you do when its summer, hot and mangoes are in season?

Besides the usual way to of eating mangoes (slice, dice, juice etc), you make mango popsicles. They are so easy to make. Homemade allows you greater control over the quality of ingredients ( organic, low sugar ) so in general these are healthier than any store-bought ones ( if you at all can find the ones in the flavors you want easily). And they taste of the  fruit rather than weird artificial flavors.

I had a can of coconut milk at home so instead of using regular milk/cream I used the coconut cream. That makes this diary free and paleo diet friendly though I suppose you could make the same with greek yogurt as well.

If you don’t have popsicle molds, hmmm…., go get some! They are cheap, fun and kids love them. For the being, if you must make this tonight and don’t have molds, set this in an airtight container. Churn 2 – 3 times. If the coconut cream you use is full fat then you will be rewarded with a creamy mango ice-cream. If it’s a lite version, then it wont be as creamy but  finger licking good nevertheless.

And if you are amongst the few who hate the taste of coconut, I can assure you the taste is very subtle. It wouldn’t stop me from making this if I were you 😉

The recipe (if mixing few ingredients and sticking them in the freezer in a mold can be called as a recipe ) is below.

Mango Coconut Popsicle Recipe

  • 3 cups freshly squeezed mango pulp
  • 1 cup coconut cream ( the fatty layer from the top half of can of coconut milk)
  • 1/4  cup sugar ( optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Combine the mango pulp with coconut cream and lemon juice. Add sugar if needed depending on how sweet/ sour the mangoes are. Blend. Fill in popsicle molds.

2. Freeze for at least 4 – 5  hours ( to overnight).

3. To de-mold, run the molds under warm water. Remove from the mold with a sharp pull.

Quick. Enjoy before they melt!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

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Vipul’s parents are in town for the summer holidays along with his uncle and aunt. The day begins and ends with food and food plans. What should we have for breakfast/lunch/evening snack/dinner? They are determined to fatten us up while they are all here!

I volunteered to make cinnamon raisin bread one weekend mainly to give them a break. But it’s so hot in Hyderabad that I could not bear the thought of being in the kitchen and near the stove. Breads are perfect in such weather. You mix and knead the necessary ingredients and step aside for a couple of hours letting yeast do its job. Come back in knead, roll and shape and again step out to do your thing while yeast continues its work. Once doubled, the bread is then baked in the oven and ready to be served.

So, bread it was. But what kind? Basic sandwich bread would be too boring, something like a focaccia too time consuming… I wanted something basic with just a little bit of oomph to impress my visiting in-laws. Cinnamon raisin bread was what I settled on. It’s a little bit beyond basic, goes perfectly with tea and is not too sweet. Perfect.

Cinnamon raisin bread

I looked up a few recipes online and most of them were for 2 – 3 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread which seemed a bit excessive. If my experiment was not successful then who would finish the remaining loaves? I stumbled across a recipe from food.com with a built-in calculator for 1 loaf. Oh good, now I don’t need to do the math. Luckily I had all the ingredients on hand and off I went to make us some bread.

A typical bread requires some sort of leavening agent like yeast to make it rise. And the leavening agents need time to do their magic. They cannot be rushed else it results in a hard bread. Patience is the key here. Slow rises in fridge and an extra third rise is considered to lend deeper flavor to the bread than the standard two rises. A few hours and a movie later, as the bread baked,our house was filled with enticing aromas of cinnamon. Everyone peeked into the kitchen one by one to get a whiff of when the bread would cool enough for them to taste. Even Vipul’s dad loved it with a hot cuppa tea after his nap.

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Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread Recipe

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder

1.Heat the milk until it just begins to form bubbles on the edges and then set aside to cool.

2. Mix yeast in warm water and set aside for 10 minutes to froth.

3.  Cream the butter and sugar together for a couple of minutes and then add the beaten egg to it.

4. Add salt to the flour and mix. Add the egg- butter mix, milk,raisins and the yeast to the flour and knead into a stiff dough. Start with 2 cups of flour, adding as necessary to knead the dough into form.

Grease a bowl with butter or oil. Place the dough in the bowl.Cover with a cling wrap and set aside for 2-3 hours till doubled in size in a warm draft free place.

5.  Mix the cocoa and cinnamon powder and set aside.

6.Punch down the dough to its original size and rollout into a rectangle 1/2 an inch thick. Moisten the dough with the milk and then spread a layer of the cinnamon-chocolate powder on it.

7. Roll into a tight log (along the long edge). Place this loaf  in a well-greased baking pan. Tuck in the ends. Cover loosely with a cling wrap and let this rise for another 30 -45 minutes.

8. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 F till golden brown. Brush the top of loaf with butter once the loaf is out of the oven.

Let cool before slicing.

Serve with tea, coffee, with some butter or jam or as is. Enjoy!

Mount Rainier National Park For A Casual Visitor

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If you are from Seattle or have ever visited Seattle, Mt. Rainier needs no introduction. As you land, you can’t miss the towering snowcapped mountain even on a partly cloudy day. On a sunny day, even the pilot will announce that Mt. Rainier is out and you will feel bad that you are in the aisle seat while the guy in the window seat is hogging the entire view without letting you get even a peek.

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Don’t worry, on a clear day Mt. Rainier is visible from almost anywhere in Seattle. And if you do see Mt. Rainier do make it a point to visit the Mt. Rainier National Park. A couple of hours drive south-west of Seattle, this mountain dominates the horizon. And we have visited Rainier in every season possible sometimes camping in the summer, staying in log cabin in fall or skiing in winter. The park has numerous entrances with Paradise and Sunrise being the two most popular entrances.

There is something for everyone here: Short walks in subalpine meadows, wildflowers in July , glaciers, hike to Camp Muir for the more adventurous, waterfalls, reflection lakes, camping and even a technical climb to the top.

This post is all about casual visitor and top things to do in the national park when you want to drive into the park and enjoy it without thinking about gear, training and other technicalities -which is what we did on most trips!

1.  Take a subalpine walk amongst the meadows(both  from Sunrise and Paradise)

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2. Look for rainbows around the thundering waterfalls

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3.  Enjoy Mt Rainier’s reflection at Reflection Lake

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4.   Watch sunrise over Mt Rainier

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5.  Admire the glacier

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Do plan a trip this Summer once the roads to Paradise are open.Its bound to mesmerize you and make you come back over and over again!

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