Monthly Archives: December 2020

Daily Catskills: 12/21/20 Winter Solstice & Yuletide

© J.N. Urbanski 7.30am – Usage prohibited without consent

30F at 7.30am and overcast with rippling cloud and a pink sunrise at 7.36am, rising to a high of 40F and sunny with wispy balls of cotton wool clouds. Icicles as big as railroad spikes glistening in the afternoon sun.

Winter Solstice began at 5.20am. The first day of Yuletide, the shortest day of the year (7.36am to 4.29pm) and originally an ancient pagan festival of lights. There’s a reason why there are festivals of light in religions in this hemisphere around this time – the darkest time of the year. The seasons are caused by the tilt in the earth’s axis. This tilt is constant as the earth spins in its orbit around the sun in an elliptical pattern (an oval). We’re at one of the narrow ends of the elliptical orbit, and the northern hemisphere is the farthest away from the sun at this time.

Chewy Lemon Maple Blondies

It’s that cake again: my go-to cake, the Heritage Apple cake, but this time instead of mixing the stiff batter with two cups of chopped apple, we’re mixing in a cup of lemon rind that has been steeped over night in maple syrup, the act of which transforms it into something else. Now it’s no longer a cake, but a chewy, lemony, brownie thing. If you like candied peel, you’ll like this. Candied peel is a zesty winter snack for people who still remember eating seasonally. Oranges were rare when I was a kid in London and so they were preserved in sugar when they were in season and eaten at Christmas. We used candied peel in our Christmas cake. This brownie reminds me of home.

I was co-incidentally given a cup of lemon that had been soaked in maple syrup to make Tree Juice Lemon Maple Syrup and, now that my only adventure in 2020 has been cooking, I put it in this cake. And by heck, it’s gorgeous. Here’s the recipe:

The Batter

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Five Spectacular Catskills Winter Day Hikes

© J.N. Urbanski 11am – Usage prohibited without consent

Beat cabin fever this winter. Get outside and and go hiking. Here are the top most exciting or beautiful Catskills Winter Day Hikes, ranging from easy or moderate to very difficult. All require crampons or snow shoes. If you’re a novice hiker begin with The Shavertown Trail in Andes. Read our Winter Hiking Tips post before you try winter hiking for the first time. Click on the header links to see a more detailed description of each hike.

The Shavertown Trail, Andes

This is family hike for all generations with a hemlock forest and long, panoramic views (pictured above). The first mile is the most strenuous, but the rest of it is relatively gentle. There’s a pond and a bench on which to rest if it’s not too cold.

Bearpen Mountain

Bearpen is bearish: a long, winding and slow snowmobile trail with spectacular views into Schoharie Valley at the top. Bearpen used to be a ski mountain and the old machinery still remains hidden in the undergrowth. There’s a magical winter wonderland at the top in the dead of winter. Gorgeous.

Belleayre Mountain from Lost Clove Road

This is a spectacular hike. You’re coming up the back of Belleayre Ski Center and there are picnic tables at the top where you can eat in front of magnificent views and watch skiers and boarders drop over the edge of the double-black diamonds like stones over a frozen waterfall. This is a long, interesting hike with lots to see. Keep dogs on a leash at the summit to keep them out of the way of descending skiers.

Slide Mountain

Slide is a long, steep hike for experienced hikers, but absolutely majestic in winter with breathtaking views. There’s also access to the rest of the Burroughs Range for the highly-prepared experts.


The trail to the summit of Westkill is an extraordinarily difficult hike with a thigh-busting two-mile uphill struggle from the beginning, but the picturesque drive through the Spruceton valley, the double waterfall at Diamond Notch and Westkill Brewery make this a memorable experience, even if you don’t manage to get very far, because there’s a great of deal to see, and a tasty beer in a modern setting at the end.