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Photo love: Meat & Cheese

Photo love: Meat & Cheese

Cheese is intrinsically related to alpine (and by that, I mean high-altitude regions around the globe) culture. It’s not just crafty ski town marketing that makes fondue, Raclette, and après cheese plates so appealing. There’s a historical/cultural element to it that goes back thousands of years. Mountain cheeses were- and in many parts of the world, remain- a vital source of protein, fat, and other nutrients during the winter (this means you can ditch your holiday weight-gain guilt).

Thanks, then, to the European cheesemakers whose traditions increasingly inspire domestic producers (shout-out to the talented artisans, like James Ranch, Avalanche Cheese Company, Beehive Cheese Co, and Rockhill Creamery, in my own Rocky Mountain Region). Not only are these some of the finest American craft foods being made today; they’re also helping to make it economically desirable and viable for mountain town retailers and restaurants to start getting serious about cheese.

Since- as my cheesemongering past can attest- the holidays are the pinnacle of cheese-eatin’ season, I present to you my Curbed Ski/Eater National Map to the 10 Most Delicious Spots for Cheese in Ski Country. From Vail’s Restaurant Kelly Liken (If you go, be sure to ask sommelier Jeremy Campbell to turn you on to an esoteric dessert wine or spirit pairing) and Deer Valley’s Fireside Dining, to Solstice at Stowe Mountain Lodge (just 32 miles from celebrated cheesemaker/affineur Jasper Hill Farm), there’s enough dairy on this list to keep you sated long after the snow has melted.  Happy holidays.

This is me, with our first kid, Amber.

This is me, with our first kid, Amber (and what I suspect are pants my mom bought to mark the Bicentennial).

Photo love: Slow Food London

Photo love: Slow Food London

Sometimes, I get to do really cool things like attend swanky events that would normally exclude a holey-jean-wearin’ dirtbag. Such was the case this past weekend, when I attended the second-annual Rare Craft Collection curated by The Balvenie Distillery (located in Dufftown, Scotland). The nine-stop tour hit Aspen’s historic Crystal Palace to feature an exhibition of 21 hand-crafted American artisan products- from hand-caned ping pong tables and bagpipes (natch) to chef’s knives. The highlight, however, was a master tasting class of The Balvenie’s exquisite collection of single-malt whiskies.

I’m a bourbon drinker, and prior to Saturday, I thought I hated Scotch. I know, it’ s a total chick thing to say: why drink peaty, dirty, leathery, when you can have toffee, vanilla, and honey? Turns out Scotch whisky varies wildly in character, depending upon the region is which it’s produced. This, among other things, is what I learned at the master class led by The Balvenie Brand Ambassador (and helluva mean bagpiper) Lorne Cousin. The 120-year-old family founded-and-run distillery is one of a few still doing things old-school, growing their own barley, malting and smoking it, and distilling it by hand (not by computer); they even have their own cooperage.

I also learned what monkey shoulder is, the glory that is a $200-a-bottle, 21-year whisky aged in a Port cask, why blends are the the ho’s of whisky production, and what Scotsmen really wear under their kilts (it’s not what you think). Want to know the dirty details? Read my recap of the evening for Curbed Ski.

PS. Pair this stuff with a an aged Gouda or Cheddar, and you will experience Nirvana.

Hillside Cemetery, Silverton, CO Photo love: Live Do Grow

Hillside Cemetery, Silverton, CO
Photo love: Live Do Grow

I think I sufficiently established in a recent post about my dad why I’m obsessed with pasttimes most (read: normal) people find revolting. While I do enjoy dead things- particularly mounting them on my walls- one thing I’m not into is the paranormal. For this, I may also thank my dad, who calls himself a “compulsive realist.” While I’m better able to suspend belief than him (seriously, he’s the only person who found “Star Wars” preposterous), never, at any time have I believed in ghosts, zombies, vampires (yawn), aliens, or their brethren. I did have a brief flirtation with Bigfoot at age 8, but that’s only because we were on a camping trip in Northern California and my brother persisted in fucking with my head all week.

But. I do love me a good cemetery. I’m not sure when or how this interest developed, but having visited boneyards big and small, famous and unknown the world over, I can say that I find them oddly relaxing, as well as a great way to learn about the cultural, religious, and medical histories of a community. I love to wander amongst the headstones, reading the names and wondering about the lives of those beneath my feet. What compelled them to travel so far, to such an isolated spot? What must have it been like for parents to lose three children in rapid succession (influenza?)? How would Jim Morrison feel knowing weepy dirtbags still populate his grave and litter it with cigarette butts and bottles of  Jim Beam? And where the hell is Evita Peron’s tomb amongst all those vaults?

A seaside cemetery on the island of Chiloe, Chile

A seaside cemetery on the island of Chiloe, Chile

Given my life in ski towns, I have a particular fondness, and fascination for, Old West graveyards. I’m not what you’d call a history buff, but I love learning more about the (admittedly brutal) life of the pioneers, miners, ranchers, outlaws, and others who founded these mountain hamelets. Butch and Sundance may have ended up in Bolivia, but here in Colorado, you’ll find the remains of Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, Kid Curry, and others.

Ski towns are also notoriously haunted, if you’re a believer.  I’m obviously not, but I do love the stories and history behind the saloons, hotels, former brothels, mines, and private homes allegedly besieged by spirits. This is why my editor at Curbed Ski tasked me with writing up some Halloween posts on the dead and undead sides of ski country.  If you’re in the mood for some creepy, Halloween-style tales of murder, mayhem, and mine collapse, check ‘em out…with the lights on, of course.

A grave at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

A grave at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

SLC; Photo love, Fine Art America

SLC; Photo love: Fine Art America

One of the best things about living in a ski town is that your commute to outdoor fun is non-existent. But sometimes, a trip the Big Smoke is necessary, whether it’s for business, sanity, or to catch a flight that’s not marked up an extra $300 (and likely to be cancelled or delayed, due to weather). If you’re planning to travel to ski country this winter or need a bit of a break from it, I’ve got the goods for you, via my Curbed Ski feature on The Ski Commuters Guide to Urban Vice: Where to Sleep, Eat, & Drink, Right Now.  I’ve focused on North America’s three biggest ski commuter hubs: Denver, Salt Lake City, and Vancouver.

Check it out, and if you happen to be in Denver, don’t miss the utterly amazing Union Station, in LoDo.  This transportation hub houses the newest public market in the U.S. and has been one of the nation’s biggest historical renovation/preservation projects over the past two years. It’s put Denver on the map as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to this stuff, and is home to my new fave restaurant/farm shop, Mercantile Dining & Provision, and bar, the sexy Cooper Lounge.

cooper

Cooper Lounge. Photo love: Ellen Jaskol

Union Station also houses the 112-room indie Crawford Hotel, a masterpiece of architechtural and interior design, with really cool art thrown in. I never thought I’d say I now go to Denver to unwind, but just being in this building is like a double whammy vacation/anti-anxiety drug. Love, love, love.

Ellen Jaskol - Loft Room with Dormer

Crawford Hotel loft room. Photo love: Ellen Jaskol

Crooked Stave's divine Surete Provision Saison

Crooked Stave’s divine Surete Provision Saison

Today kicks off Denver’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), so what better way to get all y’all inspired than to give you some guidelines for pairing beer and cheese? Few folks realize that  cheese is easier to match with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grass-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles- toasty, malty, yeasty, nutty, etc.).

Despite being a long-time Coloradan resident, I confess I only got into beer fairly recently (my aversion being due to the usual generalized chick reasons: bloating, sleepiness, emotional scarring from too many warm, shitty, skunky brewskis at college keggers, and a still-rampant dislike of turbo-hopped beers). Fortunately, being in the cheese industry and living in a state home to some of the nation’s most skilled craft brewers has set me straight.

While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are exceptions to every rule. I say, eat and drink what you enjoy, dissenters and haters be damned. The cheese police are not going to come kick down your door. Still, a good match is, in the words of my lovely Cheese for Dummies co-author Lassa Skinner, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens. Here are some tips to bear in mind when you’re shopping for a pairing:

  • Match intensities. A chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
  • Bear terroir in mind. Don’t just assume “this beer style will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger (or buy my book!).
  • Aim for similarities or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage.
  • Strive for balance; when in doubt, I’d go for something light and effervescent, be it a cheap Mexican brew or a killer lambic or saison.
  • Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it. Conversely, if you have a limited edition import, make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.
Hello, Cantillon Kriek.

Hello, Cantillon Kriek.

I’ve compiled a little cheatsheet for you, to help you wrap your head around some basic beer and cheese love matches. Give these a try:

  • Fresh cheeses like burrata, mozzarella, or chevre: Lager or Pils.
  • Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: A fruit or vegetable beer, like Rumpkin barrel-aged pumpkin ale, from Avery Brewing Co.
  • Floral, grassy, or ash-coated bloomy rinds, like La Tur and St. Marcellin: Lambics, Saisons, or a Trappist Ales.
  • Blues: Try a fruity, non-assertive variety like Rogue River Blue (which is washed in brandy-soaked Syrah leaves) with a Kriek (cherry lambic) like Crooked Stave Mama Bear’s Sour Cherry Pie.
  • Nutty alpine styles or hard, aged cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda, or Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese Company: Go for a Porter or Stout; the deep, rich, complex flavors will play well of the buttery rich, umami notes in the cheese.
  • Washed rinds like Epoisses, Livorot, Pont l’Eveque, or funky domestics like Grayson, by Meadow Creek Dairy: Trappist ales, hard ciders, lambic, or floral IPA’s, baby.
  • Semi-soft, mild cheeses like Jack or Havarti: Lager, Pilsner, or a Mexican cerveza.
  • Aged cheeses like Beemster XO Gouda, robusto, or an alpine style like Gruyere will do right by a Porter or Stout (I love the non-girly Vanilla Porter from Telluride’s Smuggler’s Brewpub).
Photo love: Murray's Cheese

Photo love: Murray’s Cheese

Photo love: Galdones Photography/Cochon 555

Photo love: Galdones Photography/Cochon 555

This is my friend, Bill. He’s a chef, as you can plainly see from this photo. It’s not so much the jacket that’s the giveaway. When I interviewed Bill recently for a story on his obsession with foraged foods, I asked him what it was about growing up working in his dad’s restaurant that made him know he wanted to be a chef. Without missing a beat, he said, “That you can be totally dysfunctional, and nobody gives a fuck.”

True, that. I’ve long said that chefs are, among other things, a publicist’s (and sometimes, a journalist’s) worst nightmare, but since I started out in restaurants before turning to the Dark Side, aka writing about restaurants, I have a soft spot for the men and women and assorted deviants who make up the industry. Bill’s quote is both hilarious and completely true, as anyone with even a passing familiarity to Anthony Bourdain can attest.

IMG_3338

Man. Knife. Need fire.

On that note, I’m shamelessly presenting you with a reblog of my foraged food adventure with Bill, courtesy of Curbed Ski:

It’s another day at the office for Bill Greenwood. The executive chef of Beano’s Cabin- Beaver Creek’s historic, fine-dining on-mountain restaurant- is traipsing across logs and scrounging beneath evergreens, wielding a serrated folding knife. He’s got 40 square miles instead of a Sysco truck to supply his walk-in, and he hikes two to six miles a day on the mountain alone, or with his staff, collecting wildfoods for each night’s dinner service. He gathers some slender, reddish-green leaves of sheep’s sorrel for a salad dish, then he’s off, scouring the forest and flower-carpeted meadows on a mission to procure enough berries, roots, mushrooms, and leafy bits to feed that night’s house of well-heeled diners.

You may be asking yourself, what the hell is this man all about, and why should I eat his weeds and shit? Lest you think Greenwood is dishing up the overpriced equivalent of cattle fodder, take note: A sample summer dish is wood-grilled foie gras, with foie fat poached strawberries, grilled wild rhubarb, cow parsnip flowers, chiming bells, and penny cress. If that does it for you, here’s why all food-loving mountain enthusiasts need to make a pilgrimage to Beano’s or Greenwood’s independent Sunday foraged food pop-ups, held in a kitted-out food trailer in random locations throughout the Vail Valley.

Greenwood, 35, has an impressive resume, having worked for a number of years in some of Colorado’s top kitchens- The Little Nell, Hotel Jerome (both on Curbed Ski’s 38 Essential Ski Town Hotels list), Cache Cache- before hopping around the country as a high-end corporate executive chef, with stints throughout Texas and California. Unlike many of today’s young chefs, he literally grew up in the kitchen. His father owns Greenwood’s Restaurant, a popular, neighborhood eatery in Roswell, a suburb of Atlanta. Greenwood started working for his dad at the age of 9, doing, he says, “whatever needed doing.” The restaurant was- and is- focused on homey, seasonal cuisine made with “locally-grown, organic produce, dairy, grains and meats whenever possible.” Says Greenwood, “There was never any question that I was going to be a chef. It’s what I know, but I also love cooking, how every day is different and provides a new creative outlet. My dad and I drove around in a U-Haul, picking up produce from local farmers. He had a garden at the restaurant, as well, and those things really influenced me and inspired my interest in sustainability and sourcing locally when possible.”

You know you want more. Read the rest of this story right here.

And he can cook: Bill's foie gras with foraged, foie fat-poached strawberries, grilled wild rhubarb, cow parsnip flowers, chiming bells, & penny-cress.

And he can cook: Bill’s foie gras with foraged, foie fat-poached strawberries, grilled wild rhubarb, cow parsnip flowers, chiming bells, & penny-cress.

Photo love: Restaurant Kelly Liken

Photo love: Restaurant Kelly Liken

In a world rendered meaningless by badly flavored spirits, incoherent boozy infusions (watermelon-jalapeno-Jolly Rancher what?), and shitty cocktails made by suspender-wearing “mixologists” with equally shitty attitudes, it can be hard to keep hope alive. You dream of a day that you’ll belly up to a bar and be served the perfect drink, without fanfare, by a person not attired as an Amish hipster.

Dare to dream, people, because sometimes, they come true. Last week, while researching some stories in Vail, I dined at Restaurant Kelly Liken (the namesake establishment owned by the scrappy Top Chef alum) and got to taste-test a new addition to the seasonal cocktail menu. It’s rare that I get excited about a beverage- they are, after all, mostly water- but the Colorado Campfire, created by bar dude Ian Tulk, is that rare libation that makes all seem right in the universe.

Tulk cold-smokes ice cubes using fruitwood (no, I have no idea how he does this, yes, it sounds like marketing hyperbole, but trust me). In a lowball glass, he adds two cubes of ice, a pour of Breckenridge Bourbon that’s house-infused with toasted pine nuts, and a wee bit of muddled, grilled Palisade peaches (from Colorado’s Western Slope, these beauties are famed for their sweetness). Come fall, Tulk will substitute Palisade apples for the stonefruit.

Even if you can’t get yourself to Vail (or figure out how to cold-smoke ice), there’s still enough summer left to make yourself a localized version of the Colorado Campfire. It’s Labor Day- you earned it, baby.

Yes, I slaughtered this lamb. Don’t judge.

People (and by “people,” I mean, friends, visitors to my home, landlords, and former boyfriends) often ask me, “Laurel, why are you such a freak? What is it that compels you to collect animal skulls and other skeletal fragments?” The former boyfriends are also wont to comment, “Laurel, your obsession with forensic reality TV and willingness to participate in livestock and poultry slaughter frightens me.” Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m impervious to animal urine, shit, vomit, and roadkill. Changing a diaper? Hells no. Curing the skull from a found deer carcass for three months as a cool “souvenir” from a summer living in Telluride? No problem.

From a work standpoint, my editors love that I’m also a human garbage can, willing to eat anything (sketchy street food, insects, tadpoles, animal testicles and weird meaty odds and ends). They’re somewhat baffled by my enthusiasm, but as long as it results in a good story, they’re cool with it.

I’ve given my strange proclivities a lot of thought, and the only source of blame I can point to is my dad, Dr. Robert M. Miller, aka RMM, Bob, or “Doc.” Most people assume that being the child of a veterinarian (a large and exotic vet, at that) isn’t all that different from having a parent who’s an MD, if they think about it at all.

At the castration of a circus elephant. No, really.

At the castration of a circus elephant.  I was allowed to miss school for this. No, really.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When your dad is a large animal vet, you grow up with a very skewed idea of normal. My older brother and I never got the birds-and-the-bees talk, but by first grade, I knew what AI (artificial insemination) was, and how it’s done. One of my favorite pastimes was hanging out at my dad’s clinic, gaping at what my sibling and I dubbed “The Shelf of Horrors.” It was stocked with dozens of jars of formaldehyde-pickled specimens: Horse fetuses, a two-headed calf fetus, and other pre- and post-natal abnormalities and floaty bits and pieces. It both fascinated and repelled me, but I know I spent more time there than was probably healthy for a formative mind.

I started going on calls with my dad at age five. As a result, I became very cavalier about removing stiches, loading syringes, fetching drugs and supplies, watching rectal palpations (I was in my late teens before I realized what K-Y jelly was really used for- true story), and assisting with surgeries and necropsies (the animal version of an autopsy). On one occasion, we necropsied one of my prized 4-H show rabbits, which were all dying of a horrific mystery disease. We were told to send their eyelids to the UC Davis vet school for pathology. The results came back positive for myxomatosis, a deadly virus amongst wild rabbits that hadn’t been seen in California since the 19th century. As a result, my family obtained the first trial vaccines in the U.S., which were, er, gifted us from a French veterinarian. My dad also administered my family our annual flu shots- as a kid, I had a deathly fear of needles, and one year, fed up with my namby-pamby attitude, he injected himself in the thigh with a horse syringe. “Look!” he shouted. “Do you see me crying?” Needless to say, I got over it.

A bear getting dental surgery

A bear with a bit of a toothache.

I mention all of this because on July 18, my 87-year-old father required open heart surgery to replace the defective aortic valve he didn’t realize he had. I flew from Colorado to the small Southern California ranch where I grew up, and my brother and his family came down from Lake Tahoe. The night before his operation, Dad played his harmonica while my 18-year-old nephew accompanied him on acoustic guitar. We were all extremely concerned about the procedure, mostly due to Dad’s age, despite his active lifestyle and overall good health. He sailed through the surgery, but at 3am, we received a call from the hospital that he had pulmonary edema and unexplained bleeding, and was being rushed back into surgery for what turned into a second open heart operation to replace his mitral valve.

Since the initial surgery, Dad has been heavily sedated, because he keeps trying to remove his trach tube and IVs (we’d expect nothing less; he’s a feisty SOB). While he hasn’t actually been conscious during our visits, he’s responded to some questions with hand squeezes (most notably, “Are you ready to go to Hawaii?”).  He’s scheduled to lecture at the Hawaii Horse Expo next month, and cancelling isn’t an option, as far as he’s concerned.

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

Dad has, in fact, cancelled only two speaking engagements in his 50-year-plus career. The first was when I was born, three weeks early (something I’m still getting grief about from both parents; my untimely arrival forced them to cancel their annual veterinary ski meeting), and this week’s seminar at the AVMA conference.

Over the past decade, Dad has had more surgeries than I can readily count (mostly to replace/ remove/repair failed body parts, including a hip, knee, ankle, cataracts, some vertebrae, his appendix, and in the most extreme instance, drain two liters of blood from a subdural hematoma that was the result of a four-month-old concussion). The latter nearly killed him while he was in the midst of judging a horse show; after months of worrisome decline, he called me minutes post-op and sang out, “I feel 30 years younger!”

The point I’m trying make is that the man is a freak of nature, a machine who, were it not for his fused ankle, would still be skiing with my 81-year-old mother. A world-renown equine vet and behaviorist, he rises at dawn every morning to write or cartoon (he’s the author of over a dozen books on horses and eight rather warped cartoon books, has been contributing to veterinary journals and equine publications for over 50 years, and is probably the only living journalist who can get away with submitting longhand, as he doesn’t know how to type). He rides and swims daily, and still travels all over the world lecturing on natural horsemanship and equine behavior. If he were wont to use such language, he’d say, “Retirement is for pussies.”

Not as popular as the December issue of Veterinary Journal that had a St. Bernard eating a reindeer carcass

My fave cartoon was the December cover of a vet journal, which depicted a St. Bernard on a roof, eating a reindeer carcass. PETA sent hate mail (for reals).

Last night at the hospital, my mom and I received the first truly encouraging news we’ve had since the second surgery. Once a day, Dad’s care team wakes him up and performs neurological and brain function tests. Gaby, our favorite nurse, told us, “Everything looks good; his behavior is normal, except that today, he indicated he wanted to write. We gave him a pen and paper, and he drew an unintelligible doodle.” Her brow wrinkled, indicating that perhaps there was a bit of brain damage, after all.

To the contrary, this was the best possible indicator that all was well in Dad’s mind, beneath the fog of Propifol (what Gaby refers to as “Michael Jackson juice.”). If he’s trying to cartoon, Dad is clearly on the mend. Since they didn’t save the scribble, I asked my mom to stand lookout while I snagged a pair of latex gloves and dug through the trash, trying to find it. We figured family friends would find it as hilarious as we did, but unfortunately, Gaby caught me. “You really don’t want to be dumpster diving in there,” she admonished, giving me a severe look.

I also need to credit Dad with my interest in eating. I mean this literally, because as a kid I only ate what my mom describes as “white foods,” with the exception of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Despite my aversion to anything not in the high-glycemic food index, when I accompanied Dad on calls, lunch was one of my favorite parts of the day.

Daddy's girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

Daddy’s girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

Unless we had one of his assistants riding shotgun, I was always allowed to pick where I wanted to eat (We loved the stacked, bloody-rare roast beef sandwiches from a certain Calabasas deli, and the ravioli at an adjacent Italian restaurant with sawdust-covered floors). There was a Hunan dive in Woodland Hills that made amazing Mongolian beef, and a Thai place- in the late 70s a virtually unknown cuisine in Southern California- in Encino. Taquerias were the lunch stop of choice. The carne asada burritos from Somis Market were the Holy Grail for hungry large animal vets and their tiny assistants. There, I learned to like cilantro. For dessert, we’d pluck tangerines from the surrounding citrus groves. Sometimes, if it was a night call, we’d stop at Carvel Ice Cream or Farrell’s for a black-and-white sundae (ah, those blissful days, pre-lactose intolerance).

I also inherited my travel jones from my dad, who early in his career finagled ways to combine his passion for the outdoors, skiing, horses, and veterinary medicine with long plane trips. A WW II veteran from a poor family, his two years in post-Occupation Germany ignited his addiction to travel. I remind my parents of this every time they give me shit for moving (again) or taking off on an extended trip to one sketchy destination or another.

A young Doc Miller with one of our colts

A young Doc Miller in his backyard

Family trips are what first got me to expand my limited palate. My dad took a summer sabbatical when I was 10, and we explored Europe in a borrowed camper van while he lectured at various vet schools. I tried venison, chanterelles, non-Oscar Mayer sausages, and beer for the first time. For some reason, what would have made me recoil at home was intriguing overseas, so I’d request tastes of whatever he was eating, unless it involved raw or pickled herring (something I still find repugnant).

Post-Europe, I branched out, culinarily-speaking, although I was still far from what you’d call an adventurous eater. At 11, I tried “calf fries,” aka testicles, while working a cattle drive with my parents. I described the experience thusly in an article on Santa Maria Style barbeque:

When my dad proudly presented me with a testicle taco, how could I refuse?  To say no would be to disappoint the man who had given me life, himself a former wrangler. It was time to grow up, and grow a pair of my own.  I grabbed the dripping tortilla and bit down….chewed…swallowed. It was good!  Smoky, salty, a little bit chewy, just a touch of heat and sweetness from the salsa, the tortilla a perfect foil for the savory juices now dribbling down my chin. Yep.  Tastes just like chicken.

Mom and Dad, 2012

Mom and Dad, 2012

The takeaway from of all this reflection is that my dad and I are more alike than perhaps we’d care to admit. Since my adolescence, we’ve had an often-contentious relationship, mainly because we’re both stubborn as hell, tough as the proverbial rawhide, and will debate endlessly because neither of us are willing to admit defeat. It’s doubtless been a challenge for him, given his generation, to have an opinionated, foul-mouthed, dirtbag daughter entirely lacking in maternal instinct (except where animals are concerned), and for whom marriage is an antiquated notion (meanwhile, he and my mom have been married for 58 years).

Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she's our photographer.

Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she’s our photographer.

While he no doubt prefers I’d shut the hell up, find a man, and stop this crazy nomadic behavior, Dad has long been supportive of my gadding about the world, and subsequent attempts to eke out a living writing about it. The Millers aren’t the most verbally communicative folk, and given my dad’s love of the written word (another trait we obviously share), I wanted to use this forum to publicly share my admiration of him, as well as give our friends and family a bit more insight into the man behind the elbow-length OB gloves.

I love you, Daddy. Get well soon.

Postscript, August 29, 2014:

One month to the day after my dad’s cardiac surgeries, he landed on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he conducted his seminars at the Hawaii Horse Expo. As I write, he and my mom are enjoying a much-deserved rest on Maui. Their 58th wedding anniversary is September 16.

Hawaii14

Big Island, August, 2014

Colorado 187

June 26-29 marks the 33rd annual Telluride Wine Festival. At the risk of dating myself, I was a volunteer coordinator/chef wrangler at the festival from 1998-2000, when I was only a handful of years out of culinary school. Since then, the event has gone through several regimes, and this year is again under new directorship.

I lived in Telluride off-and-on from 2005 to 2010, in a stereotypical dirtbagish manner. My housing included, but wasn’t limited to: subletting a revolting, moldy basement room beneath The Buck, where I got a break on rent for tending the pot-dealing owner’s coca plant (My one next-door neighbor was a meth dealer/addict, the other an aging alcoholic with a decrepit, incontinent dog; we all shared a bathroom that is best not described.), and a historic loft with a self-professed auteur filmaker/con-man whose main occupation seemed to consist of loudly having sex with his girlfriend in our shared room.

I also slept on various couches, floors, bathrooms, at a former boyfriend’s, and in my car, and cleaned toilets and made up beds in a friend-of-a-friend’s condo in exchange for housing when the unit wasn’t rented. When I finally signed a lease on a condo for a summer, I got a pro-rate deal because I was required to move myself, my cat, and all my shit out every other weekend when it was booked for festivals. Good times.

Bozman

My employment, when I could find it, ranged from waiting tables at various sketchy restaurants (Every single one screwed me out of a paycheck, which is less a commentary on my skills than it is on ski town food industry ethics); working a burrito cart; dog- and house-sitting for a millionaire; slinging coffee; working festivals; briefly serving as a food and drink correspondent for a local TV station, writing for local papers, and working at a kayaking/mountaineering shop. Often, I did most of those things in a single day.

Despite all of this, I still have a soft spot for that crazy little ski town with the big drinking problem. It’s also no small miracle that come this weekend, I’ll have kinda-sorta come full-circle, as I’ll be presenting a couple of cheese seminars at the Wine Festival. On Thursday, it’s a beer and cheese event with TJ Daley, head brewer of Smuggler’s Brewpub, and on Saturday, mixology studmuffin Bryan Dayton (the proprietor of OAK at Fourteenth, and Acorn), and I will co-host, “Distilled Knowledge: Pairing Cheese & Spirits.”

More shameless self-promo: Telluride Inside…and Out interviewed me for a podcast in which we discussed food, cheese, and returning to the scene of the crime(s).  Do give it a listen, or better yet, attend the Wine Festival for yourself. Meet me at OB’s; the PBR is on me.

 

Don’t miss acclaimed chef/restaurateur/author/snappy dresser/”Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, who will be giving a talk on “The New Home Economics” at the Basalt Regional Library. I’ll be moderating the event, which is $20 (including wine and guest appearance by Avalanche Cheese Company’s delectable goat cheeses).

Proceeds go toward funding the library’s educational programs, including its landmark Heirloom Seed Bank. If you’re unfamiliar with Hugh and his unibrow, he’s a force to be reckoned with, and one of the most talented, articulate, funny, down-to-earth chefs around. Don’t miss out on this special event.

P.S. Take a peek at Hugh’s new booklet, Pick a Pickle, and get inspired to put up a summer’s worth of produce.  The summer issue of Edible Aspen, featuring my Q & A with Hugh, is on the shelves.

BRLF Hugh Acheson Poster-3-page-0 (2)

 

 

 

 

Photo love: Yellowstone Club

Photo love: Yellowstone Club

I’m going to take the liberty of reblogging myself (as one does), because while lazy, it’s not as slothful as just writing a couple of sentences and adding a hyperlink. The following ran on Curbed Ski the other day.  I posted it there because I was lucky enough to be filling in for my wonderful editor for three weeks, while she gallivanted around Europe. Without further ado:

You don’t need to live in a ski town- or even ski- to know that certain types of architecture prevail when the elevation hits a specific level. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of regional or alpine flair. It’s when the details are left in the hands of clueless or overly enthusiastic architects, designers, or homeowners that things get…well, butt-ugly. From weatherbeaten hovels to multi-million-dollar McMansions, there’s no shortage of crimes against nature in the ski resorts of North America. Presenting the most frequently abused types of ski dwelling:

The Ski Bum: A-Frame.
Who lives there: Hardcores, transients, and Manifesto-writing psychopaths.
Decor: Moth-eaten secondhand furniture, beanbags, avocado-colored kitchen appliances, peeling linoleum, shag carpet reeking of beer.
Find it: Tahoe, Big Bear.

The Hippie: Geodesic dome kit-house; interchangeable with yurts.
Who lives there: Vegans, massage therapists, farm interns, marijuana enthusiasts who haven’t yet relocated to Colorado or Washington.
Decor: Minimalist; floaty scarves and sarongs from trips to Southeast Asia and India, incense burners, old candles, vaguely Buddhist knick-knackery.
Find it: Tahoe.

The Euro: Colossal chateau or quaint Swiss/Bavarian chalet.
Who lives there: Homesick Continental millionaires, Americans with a “Heidi” fetish.
Decor: Antlers, beer stein and Lederhosen collections, giant cowbells, Medieval artifacts, dark hardwood, fussy window treatments.
Find it: Vail, Aspen, Deer Valley.

Photo love: Trip Outlook

Photo love: Trip Outlook

The Homesteader: Log cabin-style homes, and their brethren, the Wild West (built from reclaimed wood), El Rancho, and Adobe Casita.
Who lives there: Texans.
Decor: Taxidermy, antique farm implements, Native American textiles/Kokopelli bric-a-brac, bear-skin rugs.
Find it: Sun Valley, Taos, Colorado, Montana, and Jackson Hole.

The Victorian: Renovated, decrepit, or faux, it’s a nod to early settlers.
Who lives there: Change-of-lifers who cashed out and relocated to the high country, divorcees with ducats, Trustafarians.
Decor: Frills, Shabby Chic.
Find it: Telluride, Park City.

The Picasso: While not commonplace, this style of cubist or othrwise modernist home stands out in the sea of Douglas fir and river rock development.
Who lives there: Celebrities and other Hollywood heavy hitters, tech bazillonaires.
Decor: Eames chairs, track lighting, dove gray and white, starkness.
Find it: Aspen.

 

 

Harvesting Tupelo Honey in Florida Panhandle

Harvesting Tupelo honey in the Florida Panhandle

I’m a purist when it comes to most foods. I was the kind of pain-in-the-ass kid who refused to eat items that were touching on the plate (actually, I refused to eat pretty much everything that wasn’t Kraft mac & cheese or mashed potatoes; my mom is wont to sigh, “You liked white food.”). While times have changed and I’m now apt to do things like ignore the “30-second rule” or snack on deep-fried crickets, I still retain my puritan philosophy when it comes to pairing ingredients.

I like to enjoy certain foods in their pure state. If, for example, I’m tasting cheese, I skip the cracker. I dislike cheese plates that feature jam or other condiments glopped atop the offerings. This isn’t to say I don’t find aforementioned jam alluring with cheese- I just prefer to serve the two separately, and then pair them at my discretion. This is my own anal-retentiveness at work, and certainly, there’s no wrong way to go about pairing cheese.

With that said, honey is absolutely bombtastic with cheese, whether you enjoy them solo, or drizzle a bit of liquid gold or smear a chunk of comb atop your dairy. In culture magazine’s first-ever dedicated Pairing Issue, I show you how to pair cheese and honey to maximum effect. Think fresh chevre or sheep’s ricotta with orange blossom honey, or specific combos like River’s Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke with Turkey Hill’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Honey, or Redwood Hill Farm’s California Crottin with Marshall’s Farm’s Pumpkin Blossom Honey. It’s the little things in life that make it sweet.

 

 

Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

In the vast catalog of First World Problems, it’s common knowledge that skiing is the sport of the privileged. At least, in theory. I’m hard-pressed to think of another legal recreational activity that so caters to the moneyed masses, yet attracts such a motley collection of misfits, ne’er-do-wells, slackasses, and snow-obsessed dirtbags. It doesn’t matter if your drug of choice are two skis or a board; it all costs the same once you need to purchase that season pass or holiday lift tickets.

There are ways to scrape by if you insist upon living in a ski town and don’t have a trust fund or six-figure salary to smooth your path. But if you want to visit a ski town and actually hit the slopes (and the bars), you need to be flexible, creative, and perhaps lower your standards just a scootch.

Worry not, because I’ve done the hard work (if you can call it that) for you. I recently compiled a list of my favorite high-altitude hostels for Curbed Ski. They’ve all withstood my test of time, meaning a case of bedbugs, foot fungus, or worse has yet to appear and change my opinion. And, since you gotta eat, here are my picks for best fast-casual ski town dining, as well.

Now get out of here and book those end-of-season tickets (not to brag, but Colorado is having an epic winter).

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

I met The Eagle my first day of culinary school. It was June 4, 1995, and 32 of us milled outside the small admin office located beneath a popular pub in Lionshead. We were slated to become the 2nd graduating class from the Vail “campus” of Johnson & Wales University, and every single one of us was newly arrived in Colorado.

We eyed one another warily, the Class of 1996 being the typical group of food service miscreants, second careerists, and rich kids. Our ages ranged from early twenties to late 50s (that guy lasted less than a semester, having realized vocational cooking is the domain of the young). I was one of eight women- none of whom, it was quickly and unanimously decided by the male faction- “could cook our way out of a paper bag.” Dickheaded. But accurate.

I was the only student from the Western U.S. My classmates were nearly all from the Deep South or Northeast, and we were utterly foreign to one another. Although I became fast friends with a clutch of guys who ran the gamut from Jersey Guido to Fort Lauderdale player, they still lived to take the piss out of me. The first night, as we settled into the grotty employee housing that was to be our temporary home (the now-demolished Sunbird Lodge was affectionately known by all in Vail as the Scumbird), one of my friends-to-be, a hulking former postal worker from Pennsylvania, walked past my room and saw me gnawing on a vegetarian sushi roll. “What the hell is that?” he demanded with a look of contempt. Upon hearing my response, he snorted, “Fuckin’ hippie,” and stomped down the hall.

RIP, Scumbird. Make way for Plastic Bavaria. Photo credit: BringFido.com

RIP, Scumbird. Plastic Bavaria stands in its place. Photo credit: BringFido.com

The Eagle caught my attention for two reasons. A. He was gorgeous in a lanky, rockabilly Ed Burns way (even today, the culinary arts aren’t known for attracting lookers, certain hipster mixologists notwithstanding), and B. I detected a kindred spirit. Within minutes of meeting, we were sitting on the steps outside, chatting and laughing like old friends.

We quickly established our mutual love of alt indie bands, snarkiness, farming and foraging, tattoos, and meat (he was from Kansas City and a former steakhouse line cook; among his favorite childhood memories were the times his dad took him to the neighborhood butcher shop to buy top sirloin; once home, they’d lovingly grind the meat by hand to make hamburgers). Indeed, The Eagle knew more about food and cooking than anyone I’d met; he was fiercely intelligent and opinionated, with a sardonic wit that delighted me. He was an intensely talented cook, and in the years after graduation, he worked in some of the most nation’s most prestigious kitchens.

Our friendship was based as much on mutual attraction as commonality (we were both- pardon the pun- odd birds in a class full of them). Within 48 hours of meeting, we were making out in his twin bed- as fate would have it, he lived next door to me. Just as things heated up, however, he pulled away and admitted that he had a girlfriend. Things remained platonic for some years after that, but our friendship grew. After class or on weekends, we’d hike, listen to music in his room (he smoking an ever-present joint), or take spontaneous road trips in pursuit of good things to eat. We learned to snowboard.

Photo love: shutterstock.com

Photo love: shutterstock.com

This isn’t to say that The Eagle was perfect- far from it. He could be insufferably cocky, and as a result, insensitive. He was not infrequently an outright pain in the ass. He didn’t give a shit what our more conservative peers thought of him, but I found a certain charm in his rogue ways. He was a loner, yet he took friendship seriously, and frequently gifted me with personalized mixed tapes decorated with elaborate artwork. He knew how to make a grand apology when I called him out for being a dick.

We’d sometimes attempt to cook dinner, although the Scumbird rooms were devoid of even the most basic kitchenettes. He had a hot pot and I a rice cooker; between us we owned a Tupperware container, a plate, and a few utensils. I’d listen to him bitch about his failing relationship and whoever of our classmates were being most annoying that week, and he’d murmur encouraging words when I wept after yet another day of getting my ass handed to me by one of our instructors.

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

The Eagle would uncomplainingly pick my drunk ass up from the bars when the other guys ditched me to hook up. I gave him foot and shoulder rubs because I was still working on my massage school certification hours (the previous year’s educational pursuit). He turned me on to bourbon, and let me sleep in his room when my chronic insomnia became unbearable. After I moved into an apartment with a couple of classmates, he’d come over and cook me more elaborate meals.

I at once adored and was infuriated by The Eagle in ways I didn’t then understand. His taste for mind-altering substances pissed me off, yet when he and his girlfriend pulled the plug in late fall, I had an inkling we might end up together. I suppose timing is everything, because soon after I met a guy who would become my boyfriend for the next four years.

The Eagle earned his moniker during one of our monotonous admin classes- cost control, probably. Most of us would nod off at some point, given the altitude, stuffy classroom, and dry subject matter. The Eagle, along with certain other classmates, could reliably be counted upon to be baked out of his gourd on these occasions. Unlike the others, he was usually silent, his disdain for the many douchebags amongst our peers such that he preferred to mind his own business.

One day, a dispute broke out after our long-suffering chef instructor- who was also the Dean- asked for feedback about the Vail program (J & W has four campuses nationwide; Vail was shuttered in 1998 and the school relocated to Denver. It took that long for the powers that be to admit that operating a culinary school at 8,150 feet was at best, highly impractical and ridiculously expensive, and at worst, required snowmobiling drunk students down from class when we inevitably missed the last chairlift of the day due to a scholastic wine-tasting or laggardly clean-up).

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

Amidst the chorus of squabbling, a gravelly voice rose from the back of the room. “You know what I think,” drawled The Eagle, his irritation at being awakened from his stony nap apparent to all. “The program is fine. It’s just hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.”

This hackneyed sentiment elicited a loud laugh from me, and baleful glares from everyone else. No one ever referred to The Eagle by his real name again after that. Still, he was a lot of fun. I could always bribe him into doing something obnoxiously entertaining for a dollar (I won’t elaborate, although a certain incident involving the glass window in the classroom door and a far too intimate view of his ass comes to mind).

One day, a couple of months after we’d met, The Eagle and I went for a hike. I was out of water and complaining. Annoyed, he asked why I didn’t drink from the creek running alongside us. I looked at him, appalled. “Um, because I’m not really a fan of Giardia?”

“Give me a break. You’re not going to get Giardia from that,” he scoffed, before kneeling and drinking deeply from the alpine stream.

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

A week later, The Eagle was MIA. I stopped by his room after class on the second day, and he answered the door looking pale and drawn. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and he explained that he had the flu. I loaned him my class notes, and he was back in the kitchen the next day. I was sure he was on the mend when he knocked on my door the following evening and asked if he could borrow my Tupperware. I handed it to him without comment.

Two days later, The Eagle asked if I could drive him to the hospital. He looked frail, and explained that after days of severe vomiting and diarrhea, he felt too weak to walk there. I obliged, and we soon learned that he had Giardia. I tried not to smirk as he filled his prescription for Flagyl.

Not long after, I cooked up too much rice for dinner, and couldn’t find my trusty Tupperware. Recalling I’d loaned it to The Eagle, I pounded on his door. Marijuana smoke, incense, and Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” drifted into the hall when he opened it. “Can I please have my Tupperware back?” I asked.

He blinked. “Um, I don’t have it.”

“Whaddaya mean, you don’t have it?” I demanded.

“I threw it away.” The Eagle spoke calmly, as if to a special-needs child.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” I snapped. “I need it.”

“Trust me, you didn’t want it back,” he said genially.

I felt the beginnings of an Eagle-induced rage-spiral. “Why not?

“Because I shit in it,” he said with a smile, before closing the door gently in my face.

Later, The Eagle came over to explain that he’d made an appointment at the local Urgent Care clinic several days before his ER visit. After hearing his symptoms over the phone, the nurse had asked him to bring in a stool sample, and it seemed my Tupperware had proved the ideal vessel for this endeavor. Frankly, the only thing that surprised me about this story was that The Eagle didn’t just give it back to me, although I’m certain had I been anyone else in our class, that’s exactly what he would have done.

A week ago, I found out that The Eagle is dead. How, when, and why don’t matter; that I’ve expected this news for years is irrelevant, as is the fact that he’d been MIA for awhile, despite my best efforts to find him. For over a decade, he was always the one who made the effort to stay in touch, even turning up on my doorstep in California on one memorable occasion. More important is that my friends and I still crack up every time we see a plastic food storage container, and that I have 19 years’ worth of hilarious memories of my strange, maddening, amazingly talented, very dear friend.

Fly high, Eagle. I know you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love.

Strange but true: this poem is on the hotel that replaced The Scumbird Lodge, right around the corner from The Eagle's former roost.

Strange but true: this poem is on the hotel that replaced The Scumbird Lodge, right around the corner from The Eagle’s former roost.

Colorado 185Ski towns are famously dichotomous, the division between the Haves and the genuine dirtballs (aka “service industry employees”) best-described as a kind of first-world caste system. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but one often fraught with tension.

Having lived in the mountains of Colorado off-and-on for 19 years, I’ve logged my share of hours waiting tables, scrubbing condo toilets, and drooling on the bar. And herein lies the curious thing about ski towns: they all have a dive or two that bridges the divide. Think of them as skanky alpine “Cheers’,” places where everybody may not know your name because you’re all collectively wasted every time you meet, but you’re welcomed just the same.

Ski town dives- the kind that draw grizzled day-drinkers, coke/methheads, tourists looking for a “local” experience, on-the-DL millionaires, and post-shift townies unwinding after catering to the douchey moneyed masses, are a dying breed.

The American penchant for tearing down really cool historic places to make way for  “redevelopment” and “downtown core revitalization” will be a never-ending debate in ski towns nationwide. But there’s one thing we can agree upon: Whether you’re quasi-homeless, a Trustafarian, college student earning tuition, or just a garden-variety ski bum, our local hangs don’t discriminate.

Hence, this love letter to the best ski town dive bars. Long may they reign.

My college BFF and I having a moment at "The Buck" in Telluride

My college BFF and I having a moment at “The Buck” in Telluride

Apres ski for Dummies

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

If you’re like me, you’re a world-class procrastinator. That’s why I don’t feel bad about this 11th hour posting on how to throw an epic holiday apres ski party. I wrote this piece for the new winter issue of Edible Aspen because I’m the laziest cook on earth, which is one reason post-snow shindigs are the best- everyone is exhausted and presumably happy, thus expectations are minimal.

Despite being a slackass, I know how to rock an amazing cheese plate, and I love to entertain. My preference these days is to pair cheese with spirits. It’s easier than wine pairing, which can be tricky due to the tannins and oak. True, many brown spirits are aged in oak, but they generally lack the acidity that makes cheese pairing a bit dicey. I love few things more than an aged cheese matched with a great bourbon.

Currently in rotation at my house.

Currently in rotation at my house.  Photo love: Peach Street Distillers

For Edible Aspen, I decided to focus on pairing cheese plates with alcoholic punches (the latter not to be confused with what happens when you’re a bit belligerent after one too many). Punch as a generic beverage was created by British sailors in the 17th century, by way of India and the Caribbean. Because their beer rations would grow flat and sour from the heat, they added local spirits and fruit to the swill. The resulting concoctions were exceedingly popular in Victorian-era England (Christmas trivia: Charles Dickens was a fan).

By using a pre-batched punch (or any cocktail) recipe, you can prep a day ahead. Follow my tips, and you can have a killer cheese plate ready before the snow melts off your skis. Since we have some skilled mixologists here in the Aspen area, I asked three of my favorites- Anthony Bohlinger of Chefs Club at the St. Regis Aspen, Jimmy Yeager of Jimmy’s, and Joshua Peter Smith of Justice Snow’s- to create recipes to go with my savory and sweet cheese boards.

The results: some pretty kickass cocktails that take the pain out of throwing a holiday party. Unless, of course, you have a sock drawer to organize. I completely understand.


Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

As a food and travel writer, one must be cunning and devious, in order to, A: wrangle invites to fancy-pants places and events, and B. figure out where to stay while covering aforementioned when accommodations aren’t part of the package.

After nearly a decade of attending the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, I’ve honed my ability to mingle with the Other Half to a finely chiseled shiv. I actually enjoy staying at hostels and cheap motels, as long as it’s not instantly apparent I’m going to get scabies upon contact with the bedding, and the noise level isn’t too high.

Thus, I present you with this Curbed Ski guide to sleeping on the cheap in Aspen/environs  (jail cells don’t count). Book now; the Winter X Games are Jan. 23-26, at Buttermilk.

Photo love: Betabrand

Photo love: Betabrand

In need of some holiday gift-spiration? I suggest pairing Betabrand’s awesome meatsocks (designed by offal-lovin’ chef Chris Cosentino) with an aged cow’s milk cheese, and a nice, full-bodied red.

If you’re feeling really matchy-matchy, serve with some toe-jam cheese. No, really.

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

Apologies, but this isn’t a post about my dabbling in lesbianism (not, as Jerry Seinfeld famously said, that there’s anything wrong with that).

Nope, it’s the story of my conversion from downhill to Nordic skier, but there’s a little bit of lusty winter romance thrown in, for good measure.

You’ll find it in the new issue of Crested Butte Magazine (conveniently available in a glorious digital edition). Free your heel, and the rest will follow.

IMG_2321 (2)

It’s okay, call me a hypocrite.  Not three days ago, I published an anti-“foodie” manifesto on HuffPo, and today I’m pimping a guide I wrote on deluxe trail snacks for the Mountain Safety Research (MSR) blog.

We’re not talking your standard backpacker fare like GORP, sawdust-flavored energy bars, or freeze-dried dinners (aka “crap in a bag”), either. I’m genuinely encouraging folks to haul handcrafted salumi, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and small-batch bourbon into the backcountry.

In my defense, readers of aforementioned blog, The Summit Register, are fellow dirtbags. Just because we shit in the woods doesn’t mean we don’t also appreciate the finer things in life. And for that, I’m thankful. Happy holiday, everyone.

fc,550x550,creme

Photo love: redbubble.com

I confess I’m self-promoting out an updated article that originally ran on Gadling in 2011, but hey, folks, HuffPo doesn’t pay.

Of greater importance: there’s a slow but steady backlash against food elitism. Pass it on.

Does anyone remember that episode of “Friends” where Phoebe gets fired from a youth group job because her songs are too truthful? And then the kids come looking for her at Central Perk, because they love the lady who “tells the truth?”

No? I guess it’s just that this particular song resonated with me, being a ranch kid, and all.

“Oh, the cow in the meadow goes moo,
Oh, the cow in the meadow goes moo.
Then the farmer hits him on the head and grinds him up,
And that’s how we get hamburgers.”

Since supermarkets and butcher shops don’t have a Phoebe Buffay to help you demystify cryptic and sometimes misleading beef labels, I’ve done the work for you. Click away.

Photo love: Billy Currie

Photo love: Billy Currie

Breast wishes

This is a story about food and friendship, or rather, how the former often begets the latter. As for the title of this post, there’s a reason for it. No, it doesn’t involve anything lascivious. P1030803I promise I’ll be back to my usual content soon.

Some background is in order. I met my friend Jules (not her real name) on my final day in Sydney in 2007. As has become my habit before departing the amazing continent that is Australia, I’d made a pit-stop in Chinatown en route to the airport.

At the risk of sounded jaded, in the 12 years I’ve been covering Australia as a journalist, I’ve developed an obsessive ritual. Upon arrival and departure in Sydney, I beeline to Chinese Noodle Restaurant and order the #4 pork noodle combo. I spend a good deal. of time when I’m at home dreaming of #4, and scheming ways to get my fix. I’ve tried—and failed—to find a substitute. If only there were a methadone equivalent for #4.

As for why this particular dish is so special, it’s the noodles. Chef/owner Cin (just Cin…like Cher) is originally from Xinjiang Province in Northern China, where hand-pulled, dense, chewy wheat noodles are a regional delicacy. He makes them to order; a tiny window permits diners a view of the long, ropy strands being stretched in the kitchen. The boiled noodles are then covered in a savory, spicy. ground pork sauce, and accompanied by a quiver of julienned cucumber. It’s a magnificent dish; rustic and comforting, with a near-perfect combination of flavors, textures and aromatics. I could literally eat this every single day (and sometimes, when I’m in Sydney, I do).

I should also clarify that Chinese Noodle Restaurant, as its name might imply, is far from a temple of haute cuisine. It ranks a notch above “total dump” because the worn Formica tables are clean, and the ceiling is (or was; I haven’t been back since the 2010 remodel) festooned with garlands of plastic grapevines- evidence of the space’s former life as a tacky Italian joint. No matter. There’s always a line, and if you’re in a hurry, you’d better make damn sure you get there with time to spare.

Dumplings!

Dumplings!

So. Jules. If we were lesbians, I’d say it was a meet-cute worthy of a Hollywood movie. I was making a mad dash to CNR, which opens at 11 am, so I could get #4 to go for my 1:30 pm international flight. I arrived at precisely three minutes before the hour, out of breath. Like all junkies, I’m sure I had a deranged look in my eyes, and was sweating profusely.

Jules arrived concurrently. She had a similarly disheveled appearance, having sprinted to the restaurant. We looked at our respective watches, grimaced, and sat down on a concrete planter. I can’t recall who spoke first, but the conversation went something like this:

“Ugh. I was so afraid I’d get here and there’d be a line. I have a flight to catch.”

“Me too! I couldn’t take off without getting my fix.”

“I’m hopelessly addicted to this place. I have to eat here every time I leave town.”

“That’s so funny! I’m the same way. What do you order?”

At this point, I learned that Jules- a Sydneysider- is a frequent business traveler (not her real job, but an accurate description), and has a thing for CNR’s pork dumplings. To which I believe I responded, “THEY HAVE DUMPLINGS?

I love dumplings. I could eat nothing but dumplings. But damned if I’ve ever glanced at the rest of CNR’s menu. I mean, why would you, when they have those noodles?

This is Jules' stand-in

This is Jules’ stand-in

At this point, Jules and I had been chatting for about five minutes. Which was two minutes past opening time. We kept glancing at our watches, essentially behaving like a pair of Pavlovian dogs. At last, an Asian girl, doubtless used to seeing salivating round-eyes loitering outside the restaurant, flipped the “Closed” sign over, and called out, “You want to-go?”

Ten minutes later, Jules and I were on our way with our precious cargo. She had a bus to catch, while I had a shuttle. We prattled away until we reached her stop, and then we exchanged email addresses. “I’m so glad I met you!” one of us exclaimed, while the other cried, “I know! Me too!” We parted with a hug and promises to stay in touch.

Since then, Jules and I have been devoted, if often slack, pen-pals. We’ve supported one another through the various forms of bullshit life occasionally flings: serious illness, breakups, work problems, death of friends and relatives. We’ve also celebrated our accomplishments via email: a graduate degree, the publishing of a book; falling in love; moves, adopting backyard chickens in lieu of children. Through it all, Jules has always impressed me with her quick and vulgar wit, insatiable love of food and travel, compassion, and amazing ability to remain cheerful—or at least optimistic- in the direst of situations. She’s the most resilient person I know.

On my last visit to Australia in 2010, Jules and I met for the second time, but our friendship—with its attendant inside jokes and shared obsession with “our” restaurant- felt as comfortable as a tatty old Chuck Taylor. She and her man, R, accompanied me on a Darlinghurst bar-hopping assignment on one evening.

Another day, Jules and I walked the coastal trail that runs between Sydney’s beguiling eastern beaches. Afterward, we stopped for the world’s best cherry strudel (or, “scccchtruuuuudel” as Jules would say). The last night of my trip, Jules and R took me to their favorite sushi restaurant. They made me feel special, in a city that never fails to make me feel anything less than that.

View of Clovelly Beach on our "sccchtruuudel" stroll

View of Clovelly Beach on our “sccchtruuudel” stroll

It was with great shock and sadness that I received an email from Jules about 18 months ago. She’d tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation; both her mother and grandmother, as well as other maternal relatives, had died young from breast cancer. Now, it looked like Jules was going to face a similar fate unless she took prompt and drastic action.

In typical Jules fashion, that’s just what she did. No whinging, no pity party-by-email. She thoroughly researched her options and last winter underwent a Salpingo-Oophorectomy that kicked her into instant menopause.

As I write this, Jules is “in hospital” recovering from Thursday’s double mastectomy to remove her cancer-free breasts. Several days prior, she threw an “Ernbreast Hemingway: A Farewell to Boobs” party. That’s just the kind of person Jules is.

I emailed her the other day find out how the surgery went (without a hitch). From her starched-sheeted bed, Jules wrote, “I could go into the vomiting up all my food, the crushing feeling against my chest, the sheer, bloody discomfort, but I am alive, alive, alive! And I am loved, supported, and the first woman in my family in centuries who has actually had a choice. The value of that is immeasurable.”

Breast wishes for a speedy recovery, Jules; you’ve done National Breast Cancer Awareness Month proud. Love you lots.

Go climb a mule

Anyone have one of those iconic travel T-shirts designed to inspire awe and envy? IMG_1962

  • Ithaca is Gorges (New York)
  • Go Climb a Rock (Yosemite)
  • Wouldn’t you rather be riding a mule on Molokai? (Hawaii).

They captivated me as a kid, sparking my desire to explore the planet. And while still haven’t made it to Ithaca, I’m now proudly sporting a mule ride bumper sticker on my fridge.

Molokai’s venerable mule ride to the hauntingly beautiful Kalaupapa Peninsula is one of those things you need to do before you die. Read about my recent experience on the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour on American Cowboy online.

Have any groovy travel T memories? Share them here.

Of course there are eco-friendly hotels- I just used that header to suck you in (Seriously, what’s with all the Bigfoot-centric reality shows of late? Did these people also get anal-probed by aliens?).

Finding a great property that walks the talk does require a bit of online homework. Check out my eco-hotel checklist on Gadling to make quick work of the task. Here’s to greener getaways.

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

I’m clearly the Luddite I claim to be on my About page, because I just now discovered The Dirtbag Diaries. This interactive website features podcasts, vidcasts, short stories, and music that appeal to those of us who relish the dirtball lifestyle. Check it out, or better yet, contribute and support the cause.

I am indeed a food writer. Why do you ask? Getting gourmet in Shenandoah NP,

I am indeed a food writer. Why do you ask? This is my ex, btw. I may be a dirtbag but I don’t have Man Hands.
 

 

 

 

Bacon, bacon, bacon

Do you enjoy snarfing your bacon in the great outdoors?  Did you know that studies have shown that al fresco charcuterie consumption increases serotonin levels? Okay, I made that second part up. But if camping with pork products ranks on your list of preferred activities, here’s how to safely pack your stash into the backcountry.

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

CB signs

Because I took this photo in a remote hamlet, I assume it wasn’t intentional that “Pfisters Handworks” is located right above “Pooh’s Corner.” But I could be mistaken.

Traveling solo is officially cool now, or so my Klout score (whatever that means) tells me. You don’t need a reason: just get out there and see the world!

Bonus: You don’t have to feel like a narcissistic a-hole for taking selfies.

Trekking Condoriri (solo, not counting guide) in Bolivia.

Trekking Condoriri (solo, not counting guide) in Bolivia.

I’m just going to give it to you straight. The best way to incur a travel writer’s wrath is to use any of the following phrases when asking them about their occupation: “Dream job;” “Must be nice; “Always on vacation,” and “How’s it feel to not work for a living?”

This was taken an hour after a Good Samaritan thought I was homeless.

This was taken an hour after a Good Samaritan thought I was homeless. Where they got that impression, I know not.

Get a group of travel writers together, and one of the main topics of conversation will be how fucking annoying it is to always be told we have a “dream job,” when the general public has no understanding of what it is we actually do, and how damned hard and stressful it really is.

I had a therapeutic commiseration session of this sort a week ago, with my colleague K, who lives on Maui. I was passing through while on assignment in Hawaii, and we stopped for a round of drinks at my former place of employment (yes, yes, I sound like a hypocrite, but I’ve lived on Maui…twice. I resided in a gutted house sans electricity, and waited tables; I returned there to work as a line cook for my culinary school internship). Not to get off-topic, but what I love most about returning to Lahaina is that even 22 years later, I can walk into that restaurant and know exactly who will be occupying what seat at the bar. In the middle of the day.

Back to the subject at hand: The toughest part about discussing our occupation with laypeople is that we sound like jaded, ungrateful assholes (admittedly, many travel journalists are, and I, too, would like to give these people a swift kick in the windpipe).

Believe me, we know how fortunate we are. What people need to understand is that we’re also mutants, and our insatiable need to wander outweighs things that Maslow long ago identified as the Hierarchy of Needs. We willingly live a poverty-level existence in order to see the world, happily wallow in sub-human conditions to do so, and through this freakish existence, find inspiration, emotional sustenance, and the motivation to continue earning under a dollar a word in order to feed our habit.

We’re the craven junkies of writers, and yes, we have day jobs. Please note: I’m not referring to “travel writers” whose lifestyles are subsidized by a wealthy spouse, trust fund, or flat-our journo-whoring. I’m talking about pursuing actual travel journalism as a primary occupation. It’s our dream job as well; just don’t call it that. Here’s why:

Most of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. This is tough when you’ve always prided yourself on paying bills and rent in a timely manner, and maintaining a good credit rating–something I no longer possess, for reasons explained below. These values were drilled into my skull at an early age.

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

Fiscal responsibility is complicated by the fact that when you’re freelance, you usually get paid when the magazine or website decides you get paid. Auto-payments for bills are for people with real jobs. So are direct deposits. When we’re on the road, we’re sweating the paychecks that are (hopefully) awaiting us in our mailboxes, while at the same time wondering how the hell we’re going to pay rent or, in more extreme situations, make it home.

Think I’m exaggerating? The following is a snippet from an email I sent to K yesterday, after arriving in LA post-red-eye. He’d wanted me to stay in Hawaii a few extra days, so I could participate in the Maui launch of the Polynesian canoe Hōkūle‘a. I was all over it, until disaster struck in Honolulu.

…I so wanted to extend so I could do the canoe launch, but you’ll appreciate this: since I no longer have a credit card because I’m a deadbeat travel writer with monumental medical debt due to the crazy infectious disease I acquired in Ecuador while on assignment, I had to pay cash deposits on my rental cars, even though my host had prepaid.

So, I ran out of funds in Honolulu, and went two days without money for food. How’s that for irony? But the best part is that a bank employee at my credit union put $4.58 of his own money into my account yesterday so that I could withdraw $20 (i had $18 and some change left, and there was a $3 fee) and get a fucking bowl of ramen. Did I mention that during this time, it was my final night of a hosted stay at a five-star hotel in Waikiki, and that my last meal was an extravagant, 11-course dinner at _____ that I was invited to because I’m a friend of a friend of the chef?”

I was in a bit of a bind, because my mail was on hold, so I couldn’t ask my neighbor to deposit any accumulated paychecks for me. Being a holiday weekend, I was also guaranteed any cash infusions from my cheese consulting clients (aka “direct deposits”) or beleaguered family members wouldn’t be accessible immediately, Thus, I came up with a genius strategy that would actually net me a profit.

I decided, given Waikiki’s staggering homeless population, I would join the

Making poi at the Waipa Foundation (irony alert: for distribution to those in need).

Making poi at the Waipa Foundation (irony alert: for distribution to those in need).

ranks for a couple of nights, until some cash came through. Why not? I’ve slept on beaches before. And meth addicts love me. Why, just two days ago, one of them proposed to me as I walked up Kapahulu Ave.  Also, I’ve been mistaken for a homeless person twice in the last six weeks, most recently upon arrival in Hawaii. There’s something about a backpack and cut-offs that makes Good Samaritans see you as indigent.

As for meals, I would scrawl some witty spin  on “Out-of-work travel writer; need money to get home” on a piece of stained cardboard. And hey, I have no problems foraging in the trash for meals–I’ve eaten some scary shit. I’ve knowingly consumed mouse turd-tainted food on more than one occasion, and there was that horrendous dog noodle soup in Hanoi. I’ve lived in my car in San Diego and peed in a Big Gulp cup at night. I’m tough. I’d just kicked the Kalalau Trail’s ass, goddammit!

Hanoi Dog Pho. Not for the timid. Or those with tastebuds.

Hanoi Dog Pho. Not for the timid. Or those with tastebuds.

I was ready to call up one of my editors to ensure he’d take the story. But then my brother called and ruined everything by insisting I pay my bag check fees and airport shuttle with his credit card.

Reluctantly, I agreed, because to be honest, I had a lot of deadlines, the homeless of Waikiki are a rough lot, and after three weeks without laundry, my clothes were already festering in my pack. Also, I actually don’t take real homelessness lightly, and while I was really planning to write a story based on interviews and investigative reporting, I was genuinely concerned about my safety (I’d already decided I’d explain my predicament to a hotel security guard, and hope I could crash in a lighted area nearby).

So, now I’m back on the Mainland, and my Hawaiian idyll seems a distant dream. I have clean clothes again, but I confess: more than a small part of me would prefer to be kicking it on the beach using my sarong for a bed, and seeing what kind of treats could be pulled from Waikiki’s bountiful trash cans. There are worse ways to earn a living.

While my brother, nephew, and I were having a blast hiking Kauai’s IMG_1510notoriously treacherous Kalalau Trail this past week, my 13-year-old niece apparently wasn’t.

We discovered this “petroglyph” as we departed our campsite on night one of three.

She ‘fessed up to writing it because we found it highly amusing. That did not amuse her. But props to you, E, because you hiked the entire thing. You, um, rock.

For the rest of you, I present this: IMG_1659 and this:

IMG_1680

IMG_1688

and yeah, okay, this:

IMG_1518Feature story on the adventure coming soon; stay tuned for outlet. And buy your permits for summer of 2014 now; they go fast.

2858663195_33daebbafa (2)

Photo love: Mike, Flickr

I know. You’re thinking, why would I not want to climb? I get it, you obsessive slab-clinging freaks. But honestly carabiners aren’t just for climbers, and they’re one of the most reliable travel companions you’ll ever have. And, unlike climbing partners or significant others, they don’t get grumpy when they haven’t had their coffee yet.

  • Speaking of coffee, one of my favorite uses for ‘biners is to carry my travel mug. It’s tough to find versions with handles for some reason, so if you see one at the store, snap it up. Then snap that handle onto a carabiner, hitch it to your day pack, and you’ll never have to worry about wasting paper on cups and Java Jackets again. Also works well with water bottles.
  • Tote your groceries. I always carry a nylon shopping bag with me (check out Chico Bags- shout-out to my alma mater- which are lightweight, and about the size of a computer mouse). After I hit the farmers market or grocery store, I clip my bags onto the carabiners on my daypack, and I’m ready to walk home.
  • Make a kick-ass key chain. I get a lot of grief from friends for using small carabiners to carry my keys…probably because I’m a petite, heterosexual girl, and I clip them to my belt loop. Does it bother me that this is apparently dykey/dude-like? No. Because when my friends inevitably lose their keys (or purse containing keys), I can say, “You should really get a carabiner for those.”
  • Haul your shoes, wet swimsuit, or baseball hat. Or ski/snowboard/bike/skate helmet. Whatever. When I fly, I usually don’t have room in my full-size pack for my running or hiking shoes, so they end up clipped to a carabiner on my carry-on. Yeah, I’m sure it’s a bit of a bummer for seatmates after I’ve worn them on a trek, but that’s what travel-size Febreze® is for.
  • Jerry-rig a broken zipper, or use as an emergency closure on bag. I’ve used carabiners to hold together the handles of overstuffed tote bags brimming with alpaca-wool textiles and other travel souvenirs and as stand-ins for broken zippers on duffel bags. Plainly put, ‘biners rock.

 

Actual headline on NBC News today: “Backyard chickens dumped at shelters when hipsters can’t cope, critics say.”

Photo love: matt, Flickr

Photo love: matt, Flickr

While I’m bummed about the plethora of homeless hens (and roosters with owner-related gender, uh, identification issues), I have to say that the only thing I love more than this headline is a quote from the owner of Minneapolis’ Chicken Run Rescue:

“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.”

Seriously, folks. Not to get all judgey, but please do your research before you put in that badass backyard coop, set of hives, or goat shed. Pets and food animals are like kids:  a longterm commitment.

Are goats the new backyard chicken? Indeed they are. Find out why adding a couple of caprines to your urban farm provides more than just milk.

Photo love: Tc Morgan

Photo love: Tc Morgan

Ever wondered what it’s like to visit a medicine man or woman? Now you know.

Walk this way...

Walk this way…

Last night I attended “An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert: Good vs. Evil” in Boulder. Best quote of the night (and there were many…so many) was from Tony, talking about Guy Fieri (one of my own favorite targets):

Photo love: delish.com

Photo love: delish.com

“He looks like Ed Hardy fucked a Juggalo.”

That sums it up nicely, I think.

I arrived in Paraguay at 4am yesterday, after a morning flight the previous day from La Paz to Lima, which was followed by an excruciating 13-hour layover. At 10pm, topped off with Xanax, I boarded my flight to Asuncion. I know I hate to fly, but…

Photo love: Flickr user FotoKatolik

Photo love: Flickr user FotoKatolik

Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean [they’re] not after you (apologies to Kurt Cobain). Warning signs:

  • The plane is a janky, half-ass, Third World carrier, and looks it.
  • The Captain warns passengers in two languages prior to takeoff that,  “you’ll need to keep your seatbelts tightly fastened” for the duration of the flight, due to “severe turbulence” over Juliaca and La Paz.”
  • The flight attendants all look like they don’t give a shit, and when you request a blanket from the big male one, he throws it at your head.
  • The tough-looking Bolivian guy seated next to you crosses himself at takeoff.
  • You’re rudely awakened from your Xanax slumber by aforementioned turbulence. Which is reality is a violent drop in altitude that causes the entire plane to gasp in fear (you, being you, wake up screaming, “What the motherfuck?!“).
  • Approximately 75% of the passengers are the Paraguayan National Futbol Team (and their trophy, which needed its own seat). They don’t strike you as the type of guys who get worked up over a bit of turbulence.
  • The futbol player across from you remains rigid and mute for the remainder of the flight.
  • Upon landing, with all the delicacy of a watermelon being hurled from a roof, the entire plane applauds. For a long time. You discover this is a Paraguayan tradition.
  • Before you deplane, a flight attendant walks slowly down the aisle blasting a can of insecticide (I’m sure it was FDA-approved…not).

P.S. My brother called me out for not mentioning the obvious, which is a different sports team having flight problems over the Andes. His final chastism? “And you a food writer.”

In my defense, Alive was all I could think about during my flight, and I was entirely convinced that by having those thoughts, I was going to screw us all.

I’d also like to point out that it was an Uruguayan rugby team, and that I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Meat is meat. You should have seen what was in the empanadas I ate this morning.

I will say that Nando Parrado is one of my all-time most-inspiring heroes, and if you haven’t read Miracle in the Andes, his autobiography of the tragedy, you should. Regardless of your feelings about flying and eating human jerky.

I’m going to preface this post with a disclaimer: I’ve spent the past decade exploring South America, and I keep coming back because I love it so much. I find the differences (and similarities) in countries and cultures endlessly fascinating, as well as the food, languages, geography, flora, fauna, and people. I’ve been in Bolivia for a week, and I’m smitten, if not a little culturally befuddled.

Mercado Campesino, Tupiza

Mercado Campesino, Tupiza

Like most of my writing, this will likely offend, so please let it be known that I’m merely taking the piss. Don’t even get me started on what’s annoying about Norte Americanos (self included). Now, adelante:

  •  Why do adults of both genders pick their noses in public? Like, a lot?
  • Why do men of all ages also urinate in public, i.e. sidewalk, mid-day, full frontal? Yet last night, I got into verbal battle (en español) with a Bolivian man who’d just relieved himself along with two friends, behind a mound of rocks on the side of the road (our overnight bus was taking a 10-minute break at a restaurant). After they zipped up, I ventured over, and this guy started yelling at me to go pee in the bathroom.

I explained that the toilet (a seatless, shit-splattered number in a cement cell, with a one-foot gap at the top of the door that approximated the height of the average Bolivian male—about 5’7″) was in use. In reality, my nervous bladder wouldn’t function in there, and believe me, I tried. He was having none of it. From what I gathered, the issue was that said pile of rubble was part of the “construction” of someone’s “home” and it was bad luck for my (female? gringa?) urine to taint it.

  • Why are 99.9% of cholitas (indigenous women from the Andean highlands; I’m specifically referring to those in La Paz) the size of Mack trucks? Proof: The city’s weekly event called Cholita’s Fighting.

hoja de coca

  •  How is the human cheek is capable stretching to hamster-like capacity, in order to accommodate a wad of coca leaves the size of a tennis ball?
  • Why do cholitas hawk with greater frequency and volume than the Chinese? I blame the noxious traffic fumes, since many of them are street vendors.
  • What do the cops actually do besides eat, socialize, and look cool in uniform?
Insta-camelid: Just add water!

Insta-camelid: Just add water! Who decided that burying a desiccated llama fetus beneath the cornerstone of your new house brings good luck?

  • Why, as in the rest of Latin America, is honking one’s horn repeatedly, even when at a standstill, okay? Rather than just being totally fucking annoying.
  • How does listeria not develop in “fresh” cheese that’s been kept unrefrigerated for three days?
  • Why am I still alive from eating said cheese?  Because I seriously had no choice in the matter, or I would have caused grave offense. And sometimes death is preferable.

A. They have mannequins like these, instead.

I will eat your soul.

mannequin1

Just observed on cobbled side street in San Pedro, La Paz. I’m also pretty  sure this was a Subaru.

There is no escape.

There is no escape.

El Mundo pequeno, no?

citr

Photo love: Flickr user K.Hurley

As a native Southern Californian, citrus is in my blood. As a kid, I’d go on calls with my dad, a large animal vet, and we’d drive past mile upon mile of citrus trees. Without fail, he’d always pull the truck over, and we’d help ourselves to some tangerines or oranges. What’s a little theft in exchange for replacing a Holstein’s prolapsed uterus?

I came up with this refreshing, aromatic compote for a cooking class. This time of year, California farmers markets are flooded with a staggering array of citrus varieties, from rosy-pink Cara-Cara oranges, to tart, briny little finger limes. Regardless of what kinds you use, this dessert is a snap, and sure to evoke sunny skies and fragrant groves, with nary a strip mall in sight.

CITRUS COMPOTE IN GINGER-STAR ANISE SYRUP

serves 4

5 cups water

¾ cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

4 slices peeled ginger, each about the size of a quarter, smashed

3 star anise pods

3 medium blood oranges, peel and pith removed and cut into 1/8” cross sections (be sure to remove any seeds)

1 Navel orange, skin and pith cut away (follow the contours of the fruit with a sharp paring knife), and separated into segments by freeing the sections from the membranes holding them in place with paring knife

2 medium pink grapefruit, such as Rio Star, peel and pith cut and away and segmented, as above

3 kumquats, cut into paper-thin slices

fresh mint leaves, julienned, for garnish

Combine water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and star anise in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, reducing heat if too high.

Strain liquid to remove ginger and spices, and add liquid back to saucepan.  Bring back to boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow liquid to reduce, about 15 to 20 minutes, until a syrupy consistency that just barely coats the back of a spoon (it will still be fairly runny).  Remove from heat, pour into a glass bowl, and chill for at least one hour.

To serve, add citrus to four martini glasses or compote bowls, and pour syrup over fruit.  Garnish with mint.

© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2000.

All due respect to Snoop Pomeranian, or whatever the hell he’s calling himself these days, but gin and juice is no longer where it’s at. Gin and goat or blue cheese, yes. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, sub gin for an herbal liqueur. Inspiration to be found right here.

Photo love: Flickr user pmarkham

Photo love: Flickr user pmarkham

Holiday in Cambodia

In travel industry parlance, a “staycation” is a holiday at home.  As in, you’re broke, but you need to use up those paid vacation days, so you opt to sleep in, putter around the house, and visit that fascinating local museum dedicated to the history of widgets.

Until yesterday, I was thisclose to cashing in the 180,000 frequent flyer miles I’ve been hoarding for years, and book a trip to India or Southeast Asia for Christmas. I get antsy when I don’t get my hardcore travel fix on a regular basis, and in this economy, that means once a year.

The thing is, money is tight right now, so I’ve been waffling on committing to a major trip, no matter how down-n-dirty the destination. But, as sometimes happens, a miracle arrived in the nick of time, alleviating my financial woes and stress, and making my holiday dreams come true.

This was shot from my doorway. Suddenly, my bathroom seems very far away.

The photo at right is the five-by-three-foot pit now located just outside my front door (note that I have no back door in my glorfiied studio). My 100-year-old building’s sewer line burst the other night, and turns out the problem was a tree root in my yard. I came home last night to a back hoe, crew, and assorted onlookers watching my walkway get ripped apart.

Things got really exciting when I was asked to go inside, and turn on all of the faucets to make sure the blockage was clear. The crew had removed the bad section of pipe, so I effectively have an open sewer outside my door. We watched as wads of toilet paper, and one of my neighbors’ recent meals floated past.  Yep, seemed like things were all in working order.

The catch is that until the city certifies that the line is fixed, the missing section of pipe can’t be installed. And you know how cities are with expediting permits. Perhaps the groundwater contamination that’s occurring as I write will motivate them?

The crew bade me good night, adding a cryptic, “See you sometime next week!” I now have an open sewer instead of a patio, and that’s when I realized: Why the hell blow my miles and money to visit a developing nation? I have my own little slice of Bangladesh right here in Boulder. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to unpack my sarong.

Raw foodists really have it tough.

Too soon?

Photo love: zombiesurvivalcourse.com

Ever had the urge to eat a sea creature that resembles a giant, uncircumcised penis? No? You have no idea what you’re missing out on.

Read all about my day digging for geoduck clams on Seattle’s Olympic Peninsula right here.

[Photo love: Langdon Cook]

Got geodick…er, duck?

Whether your idea of hardcore is bagging volcanoes or wine tasting, Chile’s got it. Read all about it in my new BootsnAll  feature, “Ski, Surf, Sip, Raft and Ride: Six Places to Explore the Diversity of Chile.”

Laguna Chaxa, Atacama

Aah, spring. The first tender buds are unfurling on the trees; crocuses and daffodils push their bright heads up through the damp soil. The music of birdsong is audible once again.

Photo love: Flickr user Stellas mom

Despite all that, the weather is still utter shit here in Seattle, and frankly, I’m fucking over it. I’m hearing about spring break (college town, after all), and I’m still wearing my Uggs and pj’s in the house and huddling in a blanket to stay warm (Welcome to the world of self-employment; looking presentable unnecessary).

Needless to say, many farmers in these parts have had a tough winter, what with Snowmageddon and all, so aside from heaps of brassicas, there’s not much inspiration to be had at the farmer’s market.

But at least I can provide you with a recipe that speaks of spring. Not that smoked trout really reminds me of the vernal equinox, but whatevs. I came up with this salad for a cooking demo I did at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market, based upon what was available from the vendors at this time of year. Hence the smoked trout–not something I’d ordinarily gravitate toward–and watermelon radish. Turns out, it’s a lovely concoction, full of contrasting textures and flavors. Try it; you’ll see.

SMOKED TROUT, GRAPEFRUIT & WATERMELON RADISH SALAD

serves 4

Vinaigrette

2 T. Champagne vinegar

salt, to taste

2 t. finely minced shallot

2 T. lemon juice

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

5 c. baby arugula or watercress

2 medium pink grapefruit or two medium blood oranges, segmented

one medium watermelon radish, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible

¼ lb. smoked trout (about one fillet), flaked into chunks

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For vinaigrette:  Place the shallot, Champagne vinegar and a pinch salt together in a small bowl and let macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to one hour to mellow the flavor of the shallot.  Add the remaining ingredients, whisking to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the salad: When ready to serve, rewhisk the vinaigrette, and place the arugula, citrus segments, and radish in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette (note you may not need to use all of it; better to add too little than too much).

Arrange mound of arugula on each of four chilled salad plates, adding several citrus segments and slices of radish. Top with some of the smoked trout.  Season with a twist of freshly ground black pepper.

© The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2004

Those of us who grew up during the “Schoolhouse Rock” era have an unabated passion for these obnoxious, Saturday morning  musical “educational” cartoons. Along the same lines was “Time for Timer,” a similarly irritating ABC network PSA series featuring a guy named Timer.

I have no idea what the hell Timer is supposed to be–he resembles, more than anything, a jaundiced scrotum with a pointy nose. But more importantly, he taught us young ‘un’s that a healthy afterschool snack is a “wagon wheel,” aka a piece of cheese sandwiched between crackers, in his memorable ditty, “Hanker for a Hunk o’ Cheese.”

Timer’s legend lives on, as I discovered last night while doing some (legtit…don’t ask) research. He makes a short-lived, albeit memorable appearance on “The Family Guy.” If you fail to find this utterly hilarious, I urge you to watch the original version, circa 1974ish.

[Photo love: Kurt’s Shirts]

Call me a freak, but I’ve always been a wee bit obsessed with the more grisly things in life. I think it’s my veterinarian-by-occupation dad’s fault, because most ten-year-olds don’t help perform necropsies on the family pet(s).

John Wayne Gacy had nothing on the Colonel

I briefly considered a career in forensic pathology, until I realized that a.) with my grades, I’d never get into medical school, and b.) the smell of formaldehyde makes me queasy.

Anyway, my doting boyfriend, who puts up with my  more questionable habits, like collecting animal skulls (so pretty!) and watching prodigious amounts of “Forensic Files,” introduced me to “Last Meals.”

See there? I managed to turn a completely revolting subject like murder into a food article. Check out the site…it’s a fascinating little window into the dark, culinary heart of cold-blooded killers.

[Photo love: Flickr user tarotastic]

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