January 10, 2012

January trip to Yosemite + pimento cheese


After Christmas, we decided to plan a last minute Yosemite trip, just because, why not? It's 4 hours away. We visited two summers ago, and though it was beautiful and warm that time of year, it was also overrun with people and cars. If you have misanthropic tendencies (like, uh, we do I guess), visiting Yosemite in winter is totally the way to go. The park and most hikes were empty, a reservation was easy to get with two days' notice, the air was cold and crisp, fireplaces at Ahwahnee Lodge were crackling, and Curry camp was quiet. We enjoyed it a lot this time around.

On the first day, we had a picnic lunch in a deserted meadow and then drove along Glacier Road towards the Sentinel Dome trailhead. This is not a difficult hike, but the views from the top of the dome were insanely good. It felt so dang good to be up there -- the air smelled and felt wonderful, the clouds were swirling, and the view of the valley was overwhelmingly beautiful. We stayed here for awhile.


We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring that side of the park before heading back down around sunset. More beautiful views via the Panorama trail, near Glacier point. Oh hi, Half Dome!

We made our way back to the valley just before sunset, and we stopped several times to take pictures of the high country at dusk.

Our final stop was just outside the tunnel right as the sun was setting. Within a span of 10 minutes, the sunlight on El Capitan turned rose to deep coral to neon orange. I wouldn't have believed how bright it was it if I hadn't seen it myself.

We spent the rest of the evening parked in front of the fire at the Ahwahnee Lodge, with spicy vegetable fried rice (made the night before and stored in our cooler) and hot drinks. Our attempt at star gazing was foiled by cloudy skies, so we went to sleep after an intense card tournament (Mark lost baaaadly). More on our accommodations later.

The next morning, we awoke early and hiked to the trailhead for the Mist trail. Our favorite hike, this takes you from the valley floor to Vernal footbridge to the top of Vernal Falls.


The forest smells like pine needles, very clean and crisp. And the view as you make your way up gets better and better. Like I said, we loved this hike! After climbing about 600 stone steps carved into the cliffs, we made it to the top of the falls. It was cold and windy, so we decided this was an ideal time to stop to contemplate the view and drink the hot cocoa we packed, topped with a few marshmallows we made the week before. (Good call, Mark.)


We explored the area at the top and saw a frozen lake, more partially frozen waterfalls, another foot bridge, and a curious animal or two. We debated but decided not to press on to the top of the Nevada falls (at the time, we were excited about seeing the Mariposa grove) and began to make our way down.


Mark gingerly made his way off-trail to be closer to the falls, something you can't do when the falls are more powerful (i.e. in springtime). I'm definitely not one to stray off the path in dangerous areas, so this made me nervous. Mark cased it and decided it was safe, and I trust his judgment, but yikes. Be careful, y'all.

After our hike, we drove to the Mariposa grove, 30 miles from the valley. The drive was beautiful and we got to eat our sandwiches beneath a grove of giant Sequoias. However, I wouldn't do this again just to see the trees. The trees were indeed huge, but the surrounding forest was somehow less peaceful and less enjoyable than nearby Muir Woods. 


We stayed at Curry camp and sprung for a a signature tent with a heater (really, a 1-room cabin with walls and a canvas exterior, no bathroom). Not fancy, but it was in the valley, had a heater and fairly comfortable full-sized bed, and the shared bathroom was clean. If we were ever to stay longer, or during a warmer time, we would definitely bring our own tent and reserve a campsite. But given our constraints, Curry was great.

The thing about camping in bear country is that you have to pack all food/drinks/toiletries/anything with a scent in a locker, because a bear's sense of smell is finer than a bloodhound's (I heard this fact at least 10 times in 2 days). Fine. But, question -- if bears will break into your cabin because you left toothpaste in there, what's to stop them from breaking in while you sleep because they smell toothpaste on your breath?? I kept hearing noises in the night (it sounded an awful lot like bears lumbering about, whipped into a frenzy by the delicious smell of toothpaste), so this stressed me out a little. However, Mark was not worried about bears, like at all, so my grabbing his shoulder every few hours probably got on his nerves that night. Anyway, my top 3 tips about staying in Curry in winter (and Yosemite in general) are: 1) Bring your own sleeping bag. I love our double sleeping bag; it is extremely cozy. 2) Bring flashlights. 3) Bring your own food.

This pimento cheese sandwich tasted mighty good. And it didn't cost $18.

Pimento cheese
I haven't made pimento cheese in, oh, ever. But when I was trying to clear out our fridge before our trip, my eye landed on an almost-done hunk of Jasper Hill aged cheddar. It had been hanging out in our fridge for a long time and needed to be used. Preferably, in sandwiches. And so I made pimento cheese. Maybe a slightly trashy (I mean that in the best possible way) end for spectacular cheese, but we were glad to eat it, I promise you. I'm not a fan of mayonnaise, but I can deal with it if it is folded into something really good. Deviled eggs are one such thing, pimento cheese is another, and their love child (pimento cheese deviled eggs) is definitely more than okay in my book. Is there any doubt I spent my formative years in Alabama? 

1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box cutter (I prefer white, but you could use yellow, or a mix)
1 heaping tablespoon chopped pimientos, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons good mayonnaise, plus 1-2 more tablespoons as needed, to moisten, like Duke's

optional ingredients, for kick: 
grated horseradish (1/4 teaspoon at a time)
pickle juice (a few drops)
hot sauce, like Crystal (a few dashes)
finely chopped sweet onion (1 tablespoon or so)
finely chopped jalapeno (1-2 teaspoons, depending on your tolerance and the heat of your chile)
garlic powder, which is not the same thing as garlic salt (1/8 teaspoon)
salt, to taste

Combine the first set of ingredients. I like mine to be creamy and a bit fluffy, so I stir fairly vigorously. Add salt and your optional ingredients as desired; I like jalapenos and hot sauce myself. Refrigerate, tightly covered, a few hours. 

To use: spread on soft sandwich bread (Southerners prefer white Wonder-like bread, but I'm partial to Mark's flax seed loaf) or set out as a dip with celery. If you have leftovers, try folding a few tablespoons into deviled egg filling or spreading on top of a burger. Grilled pimento cheese doesn't sound half bad either. 


Randi said...

Hi Kim! Your pictures are gorgeous. It looks like a fantastic trip. As a CA native, I've never had the chance to try pimento cheese but this looks like a great place to start.

Kim said...

Hi! Thanks, and I am pleased to be your pimento cheese ambassador.

Rachel said...

Pimento cheese! This might be what I bring to my friend's superbowl party (we plan ahead). I like all the mixin's you recommend too, though jalapeno seems less Southern/more Texan, no? :-)

Jess in L.A. said...

Yosemite is the most beautiful place on earth in my opinion. If you go back after a hard snow, snowshoeing to Dewey Point is one of my favorite (and most strenuous) hikes ever. Gah! Your pictures are great.

I also agree about the food situation. We bring our camping stove and make ramen; it sounds horrible, but it's soooo warming and delicious especially after a long day of hiking.

Kim said...

Jess, if snow was on the ground we were going to do Dewey Point! It looks awesome and hard core exhausting. Also, I hear you on ramen. It's a salt bomb, but such a good meal if you're camping (esp for breakfast on a cold day). This reminds me, I should totally do a post on ramen -- I just discovered a Singaporean laksa-style ramen with baked noodles. I'm obsessed.

JDog said...

I have to say, I'm quite jealous of those views and the beauty! I'm glad you sometimes take a break from recipes and post stuff like this.

Also, I was amused at your passing comment that you guys had homemade marshmallows. I would expect no less while you guys are roughing it.

Kim said...

J - Haaa. Actually, homemade marshmallows are an infrequent thing. They are definitely nicer (better texture/more vanilla-y) than storebought but also a total pain to make, so this is the second time in, like, 3 years that we've made them.

I wish you guys had been able to join us!

Laura said...

How beautiful! I've been to Yosemite (as a kid) but not in years. This makes me want to go back. I'll definitely remember your "pack food" hint, even though, as my friend Jane says, cardboard nothing tastes bad after a long day of hiking. ;)

Lauren said...

1.) Those pictures are ridiculous.
2.) My pimiento cheese must be on white bread. I've tried it on wheat, and it's just not the same. On white, it tastes like my childhood.
3.) I've wanted to go to the Ahwahnee ever since I saw a PBS special about it years ago. I think I was pregnant and hormonal and it made me cry. Ha! Did you take any pictures of it?

Kim said...

We did take pictures of the Ahwahnee. You guys have to go, if it engendered such a hormonal response from you! Ha. Sadly, I didn't bring my camera to the lodge.

Alex said...

I made this (5 tb mayo, garlic powder, pickle juice, hot sauce) and the taste was great. I couldn't stop eating it. However, the texture seemed off -- I feel like it should have been fluffier, even though I stirred it really vigorously, like you said. I still have a bunch left; any ideas?

p.s. I agree with the above commenter who said pimento (or as my grandpa said "pimenah") cheese has to be on white bread. Yes.

Kim said...

Alex - Pimenah! I like it. Anyway, the trick to making it fluffy is incorporating as much air as possible. So, if stirring isn't enough, try pulsing it in a food processor or whipping it up using egg beaters or a standmixer with a whisk attachment. Hope that works!

Looks like Lauren is not alone in her vote for "pimenah" on white bread :)