Enjoying The Last Of A Beautiful Winter

NOTE: My apologies to my faithful followers. I always post to the web page first. Then, when I write a 'new' blog on the web page, I post the old blog here. I failed to do that last time - thus two postings in one day to get me back up to date.

The only disadvantage to owning a resort business in a fantastic location is, if you are a key player in its day-to-day operations, it can be quite difficult to slip away and enjoy the treasures (some of which you rarely share just because they are so special). Furthermore, one of the disadvantages of living a long way from family is, they expect you to come see them on your time off. In addition, there are always projects underway, jobs to be done, things we need to accomplish. However, this spring we managed to do the unimaginable. We put off the demands long enough to enjoy a little of the special offerings our area provides. Thus, even as we watch the sun set upon another gorgeous winter season, we have stoked the the fires of enjoyment with a little personal pleasure.

We started our excursions by taking a trip into our own back country. A couple springs ago, the hubby enjoyed a 100-mile-plus ride into the back country with folks who know the area. However, with one so-so rider and me always having to ride double (although my young passenger is ALWAYS asking for more bumps, jumps, and hill climbs!), I did not partake. Nonetheless, with concrete snow at closing time, we did take the family (and a friend) around the valley and up to Brimstone.

While the weather was not overly cooperative - grey days do not make for great photos, snow showers do not make for clear photos - we enjoyed our tour. In fact, I must admit, after bumping over rock hard trails which were really just repeated speed bumps, I shook my head in amazement. Why? Why on earth would anyone endure such a miserable trail to come to Elk Lake? Granted, we do make the best burgers in the valley (hard to foul up when you make the only burgers in the valley), we are certainly not the only place one can get a hearty lunch! I do not have the answer, but I felt doubly-blessed by the end of the day. Blessed to live in such an incredible location, and blessed to think of all those other folks who love it enough to endure such abuse just to make the trip!

Even low on snow, I have to admit the Centennial Valley is incredibly beautiful. I love this perspective. It shows not only the natural beauty, but the historic aspects to remind us of its past.

Obviously some of us did not find the trip too rough. While jumping off a stump into a snow bank may not appeal to everyone, this young man found it one great use of our natural resources! The rest of us just enjoyed the snowy views from the top of Brimstone.


We often think of winter as a wildlfe-deprived time - and compared to summer it is. To me the most noticeable lack is the birds. I greatly enjoy their songs as I enter a new day. Yet, winter at Elk Lake is marked by the extreme quiet, not the profussion of bird song. While the wildlife is less abundant, there is more out there than one often thinks. Oddly enough, they can be visible in the most unusual and unexpected places.

This moose, whose image we captured from the deck of our house, appears to be keeping in step with a passing semi.

We caught this cow and calf walking the snowmobile trail in Island Park. In fact, the story behind what prompted their successful attempt to cross the highway is quite interesting. Our Island Park house, while not nearly as remote as the lodge, is still located in wild country. Lest we doubt it, the local inhabitants (the four-legged kind) are there to remind us. Take about a week ago. Within the space of a couple of days we watched a fox hunting in the neighbor's yard and a coyote dancing in the field across the fence. Nothing too unusual about their presence. However, the visitors from the night before the cow and calf moose headed north garnered note in my journal.

About 3 am, that morning, the dogs went absolutely nuts. They were so agitated, we considered letting them out. Yet, caution overruled and, with a gruff "Hush", we returned to bed. No sooner had we settled in than we heard something suspicious outside. Since the snowmobiles were sitting in the yard with keys in their ignitions, we went upstairs to take a look.

What's THAT! A dark object flitted behind the shed. Now, some mornings it is pitch dark at 3:00 am. However, with a full moon reflecting off snow-covered ground, this night was almost too bright to sleep. Thus, when the 'shadow' immerged from the other side of the shed, (about 50 feet from the house) it took no imagination to see it was a wolf! In fact, the suspicious sound, we later determined, was this wolf howling! No wonder the dogs were agitated!

Keep in mind, our house sits about 1/2 mile from the highway and in a developed area. Granted we border a large ranch, but the land is mostly snow covered sabebrush and grass with little cover. So a wolf 50 feet from the house was not only easy to see, it was surprising to see. Stepping onto the upstairs deck, my hubby hollared, "You get out of here!"

Last we saw of that critter, right? Wrong. In fact, he turned and took several steps toward the house before hopping the fence and heading out into the field next door (where he was joined by another wolf). We watched them briefly through the binoculars before, once again, attempting to return to the arms of sleep.

Not to happen. At least, not yet. No sooner had we snuggled into our warm beds than the wolf's unmistakeable howl again pierced the night. Running back to the window I grabbed the binoculars. Sure enough, the wolf in the field was howling. But, wait! Where was the second wolf? We did not have to wait long. An answering howl much closer to the house gave away his position. Running to another window I scanned the neighbor's yard. Sure enough, right behind his shed (about 150 feet from our house), another wolf was meandering up the hill toward the trees.

When we saw the cow and calf heading in the opposite direction the next morning, it was not too hard to figure out why. I certainly would not have wanted to keep company with those wolves! Can't say I blame the moose for feeling like the hillside was getting a bit too crowded for comfort.

Of course the Centennial Valley and Island Park are not the only places to see wildlife. This time of year the Madison Valley is home to hundreds of thousands of elk. In fact, except for the uniform size and color and the longer legs, one might mistake the large herds for cattle grazing in the meadows and on the flanks of the foothills.

The story could go on - and I plan it will, next time. Regardless of whether our excursions are limited or not, the area never disappoints. Wolves in the back yard. Gorgeous scenery just down the trail. And, always, good friends, good food, and good fun! It sure can be rough, this living at Elk Lake :-)

Lady of the Lake

Cooking Up A Storm

While it is sunny and beautiful outside - somewhat rare for this time of year but the norm for this winter - there is a flurry of activity going on inside.

One of the 'fun' things we do between seasons is check out new recipes - and you thought all the food at Elk Lake just happened to be good! In reality, before any recipe makes it to our Elk Lake Kitchen Recipe Book, it is tried at least once, usually several times. This, of course, is to test for quality and taste. Friends and family critique all options. Then changes are made, or not.

It is not uncommon for a recipe undergo several adjustments along the way. First there is the time issue. To make sure your plate arrives at the table bearing all the various aspects which make up your dinner meal, we must work the kinks out of our coordination. Then there is the ingredient issue. As you can imagine, while we keep a well-stocked larder, there are limits. Thus we find it necessary, at times, to adjust the basic ingredients to make a recipe more 'Elk Lake friendly.' Then there is the taste issue. Elk Lake is known for its country gormet food. Essentially this means we strive for classy, well-presented food, above the standard fare, yet simply and hearty and delicious. Some recipes, therefore, just need to be adjusted to fit our 'style.'

Our guests have come to expect good food - nothing frilly or fancy yet always, we hope, just a tad above the typical. Thus we practice and test and taste and try and start all over again this time of year. You might find it interesting to see the process. Thus, this post is all about the 'food' side of Elk Lake.

Keep in mind, not everything we try will end up on our menu. The two recipes featured in this post may turn up - may not. The one, King Sausage, is, perhaps, the best all around sausage recipe we have found. The flavor is spectacular! However, because sausage-making is a fairly labor-intensive process, it is unlikely you will find this tasty treat in many of our entrees. The other recipe, Down Home Coconut Pecan Candybar Cake, is about as difficult to make as its name is to remember. Another absolutely fantastic recipe, this cake is everything it promises and more. However, this recipe, too, will only be offered once-a-year or by special request on a very special occassion because this is no quick and easy fix!

The day started with sausage. First grind the meat. Then grind it again. Then add the spices.

Then mix and mix. Then run it through the grinder one more time to fill the casings.

Once the casings are filled, they must airdry before going into the smoker for several hours.

Out of the smoker and into the oven until they reach the perfect temperature.

From the oven to a cool water bath to cool the quickly.

A bit more air drying is the last step before they go into the freezer or refrigerator, depending on how fast we are going to consume them.

And thus the first half of our day hurried by. However, there was yet another project up our sleeves. After all, no meal is complete without dessert! Thus we began the process. First pierce the coconuts and drain their milk. Mix that with sugar and cook it down to a thick, rich syrup which we will 'paint' on the baked cake layers.

Then split the coconuts and remove the meat. After it is shredded in the food processor, a portion is toasted for the filling and the frosting.

Next we mix the batter and prepare it for the oven. Four layers are a bit much - but our end product will be quite a cake!

While the batter bakes, the filling is prepared then set aside to cool slightly.

Baked through the cake layers take on a golden hue.

Fresh from the oven we coat the cake layers several times with the warm coconut milk syrup.

After the layers cooled, we put together our giant confection. While the finished product needed a bit of adjustment for looks, the flavor was spectacular!

And so, just another 'vacation day' at Elk Lake ended with many good things to eat!

Lady of the Lake