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 of my imperviousness 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 (dog, horse, sketchy street food, grubs, wild plants, animal testicles, insects). 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. 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 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
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 after being wheeled into recovery 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.”
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
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 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
The takeaway from of all this reflection is that my dad and I are more alike than perhaps we’d care to admit. Since 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 is willing to admit defeat. It’s doubtless been a challenge for him, given his generation, to have a loud foul-mouthed, dirtbag daughter who’s 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).
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.
Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she’s our photographer.
Posted in Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged aortic valve replacement, collection animal fragments, Dr. Robert M Miller, DVM, equine behavior, equine veterinarianes, exotic animal veterinarians, imprint training, large animal veterinarians, mitral valve replacement, Most of my Patients are Animals, open heart surgery, picky eaters, revolution in horsemanship, RMM, travel addiction, veterinarians, We Treat Aardvarks, Yes | 4 Comments »
My name is Laurel, and I’m not a cyclist. While not on par with, say, kicking puppies or committing felonies, it pains me, as a Coloradan, to admit to this. Not being into mountain or road biking when you live in a ski town is a source of shame (oh, these First World problems). I think my deathly fear of bike-related sports is due to the fact that I didn’t learn to ride one until I was seven (Blame it on my very real learning disability, which is a post for another day, but let’s just say I was the kindergartener who grappled with things like using safety scissors and learning left from right. Actually, I still have problems with the latter at times). My bike is a vintage, fixed-speed beach cruiser that I’ve had for over 20 years. I’m extremely attached to it, especially as it’s well-suited to my non-existent skill level.
With Robert McCormick of Emma Farms
Perversely, I won’t hesitate to engage in what others might consider questionable behavior (hang-gliding for the first time off a 2,000-foot cliff in Brazil; doing a first commercial ascent/scouting trip of a remote and seriously technical river in Ecuador; drinking chicha (a vile corn, tuber, or fruit-based beverage made with fermented saliva) with the chief of a most-likely tubercular indigenous community in the Amazon, and riding buses driven by amphetamine-fueled drivers in the sketchy mountainous regions of developing nations). Biking, however, scares the crap out of me.
The view from the dining table
Oddly enough, the thing that finally clinched my decision to move to the Roaring Fork Valley was a bike ride I did here last summer. A friend and I rode down the stunning Rio Grande Trail, from Aspen to Basalt. The scenery and sheer joy of that experience convinced me to take a gamble on relocating, and to date, it’s been an extremely personally and professionally rewarding move.
Newly enthused with pedaling, I was thrilled to learn that The Little Nell and Element 47 -Aspen’s acclaimed hotel and restaurant- were collaborating with Emma Farms Cattle Company for their first-ever bike-to-farm dinner (Full disclosure: Emma Farms is my social media client; they’re a family-managed, humane Wagyu operation using stock from pure Japanese bloodlines). While I was a bit concerned about the uphill pedaling segment (our route involved Mclain Flats, a road off the Rio Grande with a steep, one-mile ascent), I was game. Never underestimate me when there’s an opportunity to stuff my face with Wagyu and world-class wine for free.
Carlton and Chubby, hard at work
The dinner was conceived, like many great ideas, during a drunken get-together. In this instance, it was the Nell’s Wine Director/Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, and F & B Director Csaba “Chubby” Oveges. Happily, Tom Waldeck, president of Emma Farms, was into the idea, as was Robert McCormick, former Nell executive chef-turned Emma Farms VP of Sales. The sold-out dinner for 20 started at the Nell, where guests selected their wines for the evening (separate from the $100 ticket price, which included return transportation). Since the Nell’s much-lauded wine cellar holds 2,200 bottles, many of them unavailable anywhere else, this was quite the undertaking.
Team Little Nell and guests
Photo love: Jeremy Swanson
Wines selected, we hopped on our bikes (me on a hybrid rental in the hopeful belief I could keep up with the group, many of whom are serious road cyclists). Fortunately, a couple of other riders shared my (lack-of) skill level, and we opted to ride the Rio Grande the full 20 miles to the ranch, rather than suffer humiliation at Mclain Flats. It was early evening, cooled somewhat by an earlier shower, and storm clouds hovered on the horizon. Riding down to Emma (which is a designation rather than actual township these days) along the Roaring Fork River, we sped past livestock pastures, wildflower-dappled meadows, brick-red hematite cliffs, decrepit barns and homesteads, and lush groves of aspen and evergreen. The worst thing that happened were a few bugs collided with my teeth, because I couldn’t stop grinning. I kept thinking, “I live here. I can’t believe I actually live here.”
Mike Daley puts finishing touches on his tartare
Upon arriving at Emma Farms, Carlton and Chubby greeted us on the steps of the 19th century farmhouse with glasses of Juve y Camps cava. Inside, everyone was snacking on Wagyu tartare with Parmigiano crisps, and hanging out around the butcher block in the kitchen, while Robert and Nell executive sous chef Mike Daley passed around buttery, pastry-wrapped Wagyu “pigs in a blanket.” With dusk looming, we headed to the open-sided hay barn (the ranch grows its own fodder, and while there are still some cattle, the main operation has been moved to an 18,000-acre property in Walden, Colorado).
The historic farmhouse
In the barn, a long farm table decorated with Mason jars of sunflowers and crystal stemware awaited. A family-style buffet was laid out on bales of hay; platters of smoked Wagyu brisket, cheeseboards loaded with goat cheese from neighboring Avalanche Cheese Company, and the Nell’s Thai basil-blackberry jam and apple and pear butters. There was baked potato salad with Daley’s housemade Wagyu bacon, and Dijon vinaigrette; roasted corn, black bean, and Cotija salad; heirloom tomato salad; compressed watermelon with lime and mint, and a luscious stonefruit and berry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. There was also wine. Lots and lots of wine.
The dining table afforded a view of pasture and outlying ranches. Volumnious thunderclouds, a rainbow, and an epic heat lightening display added a dramatic flair to the pastoral environs. Outstanding food, free-pouring wine (and more wine), lively conversation, friendly, like-minded guests…it’s rare for a wine dinner- especially one offered by a high-end luxury hotel- to be so informal and relaxed. But that’s how the Nell rolls. Its reputation for professionalism, excellence, lack of pretense, and a staff who genuinely love their job isn’t just marketing hyperbole. It’s a favorite hang for locals as well as guests, and I’ve never been treated with anything less than first-rate service (this holds true even when I’m there as myself, aka Random Dirtbag, rather than Working Journalist).
High expectations aside, this was still one of the most enjoyable and memorable dinners I’ve had the pleasure of attending. It was made all the sweeter by the fact that I live here. I still can’t believe it, but I actually live here.
P.S. Check out Carlton’s hangover remedies, here.
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Drink, Food, Humane livestock management, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Aspen, Aspen bike rides, biking Aspen, Carlton McCoy, Colorado cattle ranches, Csaba Oveges, Element 47, Emma, Emma Farms Cattle Company, kobe beef, Mclain Flats, Mike Daley, Rio Grande Trail, The Little Nell, Wagyu, Wagyu beef | Leave a Comment »
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.); 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; sleeping on various couches, floors, bathrooms, at a former boyfriend’s, and in my car; cleaning toilets and making up beds in a friend-of-a-friend’s condo in exchange for housing when the unit wasn’t rented, and getting a pro-rate deal on another condo that required me to move myself, my cat, and all my shit out every other weekend when it was booked for festivals.
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.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Cooking, Drink, Food, Misc., Outdoor adventures, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Bryan Dayton, cheese and beer, cheese classes, cheese pairings, pairing beer and cheese, pairing cheese, pairing cheese and spirits, Smuggler's Brewpub, Telluride, Telluride bars, Telluride Wine Festival, totally dysfunctional lifestyles | 2 Comments »
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.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged Aspen Food & Wine, Athen's public schools, Basalt Regional Library, Edible Aspen, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, food security, home ec, home economics, Hugh Acheson, Hugh Acheson appearances, Pick a Pickle, pickling, Southern cuisine, The New Southern Cuisine | Leave a Comment »
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
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.
Posted in Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged log cabins, luxury ski properties, mcmansions, obscenely rich, ski chalets, ski homes | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Cooking, Food, Seasonal eating, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged cheese, cheese and honey pairing, cheese pairing, honey, honey pairings, Redwood Hill Farm | 5 Comments »
Somm Whitney Adams breaks down a PBR pairing
Culture magazine just posted this brilliantly hilarious Buzzfeed clip of sommelier/blogger Whitney Adams legit pairing popular cheap beers with cheese. The results, says Adams (who also co-owns LA’s Bottle Shock), range from “A little bit of a pink peppercorn thing;” “An overwhelmingly aromatic note of sweat,” and “Smells like darkness,” to “I just died after I swallowed it,” and “Like, maybe some kids in Williamsburg want to drink this.”
Tongue-in-cheek aside, I recently sat down with Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, the wine director of The Little Nell in Aspen. Despite his professional pedigree and palate, Carlton will be the first to admit that he “likes cheap beers, like Bud Light and Coors Light. I think they’re refreshing beverages.”
On a side note, Carlton is also the guy who sent me a text prior to that meeting, because he was running late. In his defense, he was three days out of surgery to repair a broken collarbone.
Him: “Be there in 5. Doing blond tasting.”
Three seconds later…
Him: Blind. Blind tasting.
Me: Is that the Vicodin talking, or a Freudian slip?
Oh, Carlton. Oh, Whitney. The industry needs more people like you. Thanks for existing and inspiring.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Drink, Food, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged beer pairings, Carlton McCoy, cheap beer pairings, cheese and beer pairings, cheese pairings, hipster libations, pairing beer with cheese, PBR, Schlitz, The Little Nell, Whitney Adams | Leave a Comment »
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).
Posted in Drink, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Abominable Snow Mansion, Arroyo Seco, Aspen, Banff, Breckenridge, budget ski accommodations, budget ski lodging, Chateau Apres, Colorado ski towns, Crested Butte, Crested Butte Internationl Hostel, dirtbag lifestyle, Fireside Inn, Gunnison hotels, Jackson Hole, Park City, ski towns, St. Moritz Lodge, Taos, The Bivouac, The Bivvie, The Wanderlust Hostel, winter hostels, youth hostels | Leave a Comment »
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.” Nice. 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. 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 Edward 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
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
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
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
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.
Photo love: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Region
Posted in Drink, Food, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel wellness, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Brian Curry, Brian Lee Curry, culinary school, eulogies, friendship, Johnson & Wales, Johnson & Wales Vail, Vail | 1 Comment »
Ski 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
Posted in Drink, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Colorado ski towns, Crested Butte, Crested Butte bars, Crested Butte nightlife, Jackson Hole, Ketchum, Ketchum bars, North Shore Tahoe bars, O'Bannon's, ski town bars, ski town nightlife, ski towns, Sun Valley, Tahoe bars, Telluride, Telluride bars, Telluride nightlife, The Last Dollar Saloon, Truckee, Truckee bars | Leave a Comment »
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. 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.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Cooking, Drink, Food, Meaty treats, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Recipes, Seasonal eating, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged alcohoilc punches, Anthony Bohlinger, apre ski, apre ski parties, Aspen, cheese pairing, cheese plates, Chefs Club, how to make cheese plate, Jimmy Yeager, Jimmy's, Joshua Peter Smith, Justice Snow's, pairing spirits, punch, punch recipes, spirits, St. Regis Aspen | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Travel wellness, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Aspen, Aspen budget hotels, Aspen cheap hotels, Aspen hostels, Aspenalt Lodge, Basalt motels, Buttermilk, Colorado hostels, Colorado ski hostels, crabs, dirtbag lifestyle, dirtbags, Mountain Chalet Aspen, St. Moritz Lodge, Winter X Games, X Games, X Games lodging | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Drink, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc. | Tagged Betabrand, Boccalone, charcuterie, Chris Cosentino, decorative socks, holiday gifts, Incanto, mortadella, Offal Good, proscuitto, salami, salumi, socks, sopressata | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Food, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged 10th Mountain Division Huts, alpine touring, AT skiing, Crested Butte, cross-country skiing, hut trips, misleading headlines, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, Winter sports, yurt dinners | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Cooking, Drink, Food, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Recipes, Seasonal eating, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged backcountry meal planning, backpacker meals, backpacking snacks, cheese, healthy snacks, high-energy snacks, hiking snacks, hut trips, ski snacks, trail snacks | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Humane livestock management, Misc., Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture | Tagged food bloggers, food blogs, food elitism, food security, food writers, foodie, foodies, gourmets, pretentious douchebags | Leave a Comment »
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
Posted in Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged beef, beef labels, cattle ranching, feedlot beef, grassfed beef, meat, meat labeling, meat labels, natural beef, organic beef, pink slime sucks, usda meat regulation | Leave a Comment »
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. I 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.
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
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
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.
Posted in Food, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Travel | Tagged BRCA, breast cancer, breast cancer awareness, chinatown, chinese noodle restaurant, double mastectomy, dumplings, hand-pulled noodles, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, ovarian cancer, sccchtruuudel, Sydney Chinese restaurants, syndey, syndey chinatown | Leave a Comment »
Anyone have one of those iconic travel T-shirts designed to inspire awe and envy?
- 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.
Posted in Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Father Damien, Kalaupapa, Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour, Kalaupapa National Park, Kalawao, Molokai, Molokai activities, Molokai mule ride, Molokai tourism, mule ride, mules | Leave a Comment »
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
Posted in Food, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged blatant marketing bullshit, carbon footprint, eco-friendly hotels, eco-friendly travel, eco-lodges, eco-tourism, environmentally friendly travel, green resorts, green travel, greenwashing, holistic retreats, wellness spas | Leave a Comment »
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? This is my ex, btw. I may be a dirtbag but I don’t have Man Hands.
Posted in Cooking, Food, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged backpackers, backpacking, dirtbag lifestyle, dirtbags, outdoor recreation | Leave a Comment »
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
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Food, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Outdoor adventures, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Travel, Travel wellness, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged backcountry food prep, backpacking, bacon, charcuterie, cheese plates, cured meat, food safety, salumi | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Meaty treats, Misc., Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged anal sex, bad business decisions, chinglish, fisting, funny business names, winnie the pooh | Leave a Comment »
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: I’m apparently no longer a narcissistic a-hole for taking selfies.
Trekking Condoriri (solo, not counting guide) in Bolivia.
Posted in International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Travel wellness, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Adventure travel, solo travel, solo women's travel, travel for singles, traveling alone, women's travel | Leave a Comment »
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. 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
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).
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.
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.
Posted in Food, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Street food, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged bad credit, beingadirtbag, dream jobs, food writers, food writing, Hawaii, homelessness, Honolulu, how to become a food writer, how to become a travel writer, i want to be a travel writer, Kalalau Trail, Lahaina, Maui, travel writers, travel writing | 2 Comments »
While my brother, nephew, and I were having a blast hiking Kauai’s notoriously 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: and this:
and yeah, okay, this:
Feature story on the adventure coming soon; stay tuned for outlet. And buy your permits for summer of 2014 now; they go fast.
Posted in Food, Misc., Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged child labor, Hawaii hikes, Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Kauai hiking, Na Pali Coast, Na Pali Trail | Leave a Comment »
Actual headline on NBC News today: “Backyard chickens dumped at shelters when hipsters can’t cope, critics say.”
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.
Posted in Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged backyard chickens, backyard goats, chicken coops, foodies, hipsters, homeless chickens on crack, unwanted chickens, urban farming, urban farms | 1 Comment »
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
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Sustainable agriculture | Tagged backyard goats, cities that allow goats, goat cheese, goat milk, Goats, urban farming, urban farms | Leave a Comment »
If there’s any question as to where I get my anti-vegan proclivities from, bear in mind I grew up on a ranch, the daughter of a large animal veterinarian/former wrangler from the Southwest.
Why yes, I did help butcher this.
That said, big, honkin’ hunks of raw meat aren’t necessarily the best diet for your beloved dog or cat. My dad and I give you the lowdown on OrganicAuthority.com.
Posted in Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture | Tagged alternative pet diets, cat food, dog food, raw cat food, raw dog food, raw food, raw pet diets, raw pet food, starving your beloved pet, vegan pet food, vegetarian pet food | Leave a Comment »
Ever wondered what it’s like to visit a medicine man or woman? Now you know.
Walk this way…
Posted in Misc., Travel | Tagged Bolivia, coca leaves, creepy psychic shit, El Alto, fortune tellers, La Paz, medicine men, medicine women, weird, yatiri, yatiris | Leave a Comment »
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
“He looks like Ed Hardy fucked a Juggalo.”
That sums it up nicely, I think.
Posted in Food, Misc. | Tagged Anthony Bourdain, anthony bourdain quotes, eric ripert, good vs. evil tour, guy fieri, tony bourdain, total douchebags | 3 Comments »
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
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.
- 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! 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.
Posted in Cheese, Food, Misc., Travel | Tagged Bolivia, Bolivian toilets, Bolivians, cholitas, cholitas fighting, cholitas wrestling, La Paz | 2 Comments »
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
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.
Posted in Food, Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged Blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, citrus, compotes, dessert recipes, desserts, grapefruit, kumpquats, oranges, scurvy prevention, tangerines, winter desserts, winter recipes | Leave a Comment »
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
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Drink, Food, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating | Tagged alternatives to Mad dog, blue cheese, cheese and cockatils, cheese and spirits, cheese pairings, cocktails, Denver restaurants, Euclid Hall, gin, goat cheese, herbal liqueurs, pairing cheese | 2 Comments »
A major haul in Colorado’s Lizard Head Wilderness. Those are not my hands…I may have eczema, but not man-hands.
Ever since I wrote a report on mushrooms in the fourth grade, I’ve been obsessed with fungi in all its glorious permutations. I spent many childhood hours tromping around after a rainfall, searching for elusive species. Yet, typical of my finicky palate at that age, I refused to even consider actually eating a mushroom. The horror.
Thankfully, things change, and some gluttons are made, not born. I now enjoy eating wild mushrooms as much as I love foraging for them.
Although this recipe long predates an epic chanterelle harvest I did in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, it’s still my favorite way to showcase these meaty, woodsy-tasting golden mushrooms. Hello, autumn.
WARM FINGERLING POTATO & CHANTERELLE SALAD
serves four as a starter
1 tablespoon + 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, parboiled and drained, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered if large, halved if smaller
1 medium shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and the olive oil. When butter is foamy, add chanterelles and cook until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Important: the first few minutes of cooking, the mushrooms will release their liquid- you must keep cooking until the liquid has absorbed and mushrooms begin to brown.
Add remaining half tablespoon butter, and sauté shallots and thyme with chanterelles for 1 minute. Add potatoes to heat through, being careful not to break them up as you stir. Remove from heat.
Allow salad to cool in large bowl for several minutes, then add Champagne vinegar, more olive oil, if needed, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.
©The Sustainable Kitchen 2001®
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Recipes, Seasonal eating, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged chanterelles, Dunton Hot Springs, fall recipes, fall salads, mushroom foraging, mushroom recipes, mushrooming, salads, wild mushroom recipes, wild mushrooms | 1 Comment »
At a book signing the other night, I was asked why I love goats so much. The long answer is here, in my essay called “Goat Girl.”
The short version: This is the card my parents sent out when my brother was born. I think it explains quite a lot.
P.S. My mom still has that hat.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Misc., The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged being a nerd, cheese books, Cheese for Dummies, dairy goats, goat girl, Goats, nerdy school kids, raising goats | 2 Comments »
I’m in Boulder, Colorado, right now, having serendipitously landed a job thanks to a fortuitous encounter while doing a book signing. I now take back the many unkind things I said and thought during my 12 months of house arrest writing Cheese for Dummies. And yes, I will be moving back to Colorado in August, a dream a long time in the making.
Photo love: Flickr user scomedy
Meanwhile, I’m spending this week looking for a place to live. In between imposing upon friends, I’m spending a few nights at the Boulder International Hostel. It’s a janky-ass place in the student ghetto that I’ve unfortunately had to stay at a number of times over the years, due to it being the only remotely affordable accommodation in town.
I did evade the hostel the year I was teaching a weekend-long cooking class at the now-defunct Cooking School of the Rockies, however. The school refused to pay for my hotel room at the last minute, and since I was broke, I elected to sleep in my car for four nights. This is why I get testy when people ask about my “dream job.”
Every time I stay at the hostel, something incredibly fucked up happens. One year, it was the weepy, morbidly obese, nymphomaniacal crazy cat lady who told me all of her boyfriend problems…at 2am. Then there’s the inevitable drunken idiot frat boys who bro-out late into the night (the hostel is located on Greek Row).
One time, the hostel refused to let me book a room because I had a Colorado driver’s license (something that used to be verboten if you wished to be a guest). I was a California resident, but I’d discovered at the Colorado Springs Airport car rental counter that my license was expired. I was running late for a meeting that was three hours away, and I had to take a cab to the DMV, then go back and get the rental car. Several days later, in Boulder for work, I again ended up sleeping in my car. Arrgh.
This morning, however, took the prize. If you’re unfamiliar with Boulder, it’s essentially the Berkeley of the Southwest, only less militant, more beautiful, and with a higher collective resting metabolic rate. The first time I moved here, I had literally just pulled into town after a two-day drive, and stopped to pick up some groceries. I was standing in the pasta aisle, dazed, when I noticed a middle-aged woman next to me, dangling a crystal before the array of boxed goods. Apparently some people have trouble making decisions on their own.
Anyway. this morning I was in the bathroom–admittedly shaving my armpits in the sink–when I heard this curious noise, sort of like two people murmuring in the shower (which was running), or a mother and young child in a stall (except kids mercifully aren’t allowed). I had just seen a girl with cerebral palsy checking in down at registration, so I thought maybe it was she in the stall.
Be sure to align your Stayfree.
Photo love: Flickr user omnos
But no, that would be TOO normal for the BIH. Instead, out comes this girl of the yuppie hippie/I-just-got-back-from-a-yoga-retreat-on-an-ashram variety. I don’t know what she was doing in there (I didn’t hear any battery-operated devices) but she looked totally blissed out: eyes glazed, beatific smile. Drinking the Kool-Aid, if you will.
She crosses behind me over to the trash can, and I can see in the mirror that she’s holding something in her palms and quietly chanting over it. I then realize–to my utter horror, as I stand there, razor aloft, shaving cream congealing in my pits–that this psychopath is blessing her maxi pad before throwing it away.
I’ve already issued instructions to friends and family that I be euthanized immediately should I become one of them. You know, in case it’s catching.
Posted in Misc., Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged boulder, boulder international hostel, boulder youth hostel, colorado, feminine protection, maxipads, youth hostels | 1 Comment »
I am so not a baker. I’m also of the school of thought that it’s either in your DNA or it isn’t, unlike cooking, which can be learned. Don’t believe me? A culinary arts degree, pastry internship at Chez Panisse, two years of employment at an Oakland bakery, and a brief stint filling in on pastry at The Providores & Tapa Room in London speak otherwise.
Raspberry Brown Butter Cake from “The Preservation Kitchen.”
Sure, I can make pretty decent quickbreads and cookies; I’ve even made a good cake or two. But when it comes to anything more complex that sifting and measuring, forget it. I can’t even ice a cake to save my life, despite the Nazi-like anal retentiveness of my European pastry instructor in culinary school.
At Chez Panisse, I managed to gain enough trust to be allowed to prep fruit and make truffles, but my tart-making privileges were quickly revoked. The last attempt I made at bread was nothing short of pathetic (I was also distraught after discovering that the 100-year-old sourdough starter I’d been given had exploded in my refrigerator…I’d killed history).
So I’m always in awe of people who can deftly crimp pie shells or turn out flaky croissants. When I first met my friend Kate Leahy, it was while working at aforementioned bakery. I was just a counterperson, which meant that I had to scale out cookie dough, make sandwiches, and fold tart boxes in my spare time (having failed at tasks that involved actual baking talent).
I would watch Kate–all five-foot-one of her–hucking around 10-quart mixing bowls for the standing Hobart mixer nearly as tall as she, or blithely crafting wedding cake roses out of fondant. She says she learned to bake “the old-fashioned way, through trial and error, but my parents were very kind, especially when I got carried away with the baking soda.”
On a totally random, but incredibly awesome side note, Kate lived in the Philippines as a young child, because of her dad’s job. She once told me about the time a sewer rat came up out of their home toilet, an incident that would leave me permanently constipated. In fact, that’s my worst nightmare, right after a cockroach nesting in my ear.
Apologies for interrupting a heartwarming food story with this image.
Photo love: Flickr user Rosebud23
After the bakery, Kate went on to culinary school, and has worked as a line cook at some of the nation’s most prestigious restaurants, including Radius (Boston), Terra (St. Helena), and A 16 (San Francisco). Then, not satisfied with conquering the savory side of things, she got an MS in Journalism at Northwestern.
After working as a food editor and freelancer for a number of years in Chicago, she co-wrote 2008′s IACP-winning A 16 Food + Wine cookbook (don’t let the other names on the cover tell you otherwise) and on April 3, her latest book, written with acclaimed Chicago chef Paul Virant (Vie), The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, was released.
Kate–I swear I’m not her publicist–also has another major cookbook coming out, SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine (SPQR is A 16′s sister restaurant), written in collaboration with co-owner Shelley Lindgren and executive chef Matthew Accarino; release date October 16.
Anyway. The point of all this is that Kate is awesome and talented and you should buy her book. What’s it about, you ask? I’ll let her describe it:
The premise behind the book is giving people a fresh way to think about preserves. We weren’t just concerned with providing recipes that challenge cooks to think beyond strawberry jam, but also giving readers ways to use the preserves in meals. When you can turn a pickle into a sauce or vinaigrette, it becomes much more than just a condiment. Paul summarizes his strategy like this: ‘I eat what I can and what I can’t, I can.’”
I asked Kate for a summery recipe and she generously provided me with a cake that even I can’t screw up. Now let’s see if she can solve my sewer rat issues.
To order Paul and Kate’s book, click here. For more about Kate, go to her website, A Modern Meal Maker.
RASPBERRY BROWN BUTTER CAKE
Recipe from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy (Random House, 2012).
What separates this cake from similar creations is the brown butter, which gives it an almost savory edge, and the vanilla bean, which is infused into the hot butter. While delicious with tart, fresh raspberries, you also can make this cake with frozen cranberries and lemon zest in the fall and winter. A spoonful of summer berry jam added to the batter also works as a stand-in for fresh fruit.
Makes 1 cake
6 ounces salted butter
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cup raspberries
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or small rectangular pan.
2. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Mix in the seeds and bean and continue to cook the butter until it browns. (It will turn amber in color and smell like toasting nuts.) Immediately take off the heat to prevent the butter from scorching. Remove the bean and reserve for another use. Cool the butter to room temperature.
3. In a medium bowl mix the sugar and flour together. Whisk in the eggs, and then drizzle in the butter. Scatter half of the raspberries in the bottom of the cake pan and pour the batter on top. Scatter the remaining raspberries on top. Bake for 35 minutesor until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top no longer looks raw.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Misc., Recipes, Sustainable agriculture | Tagged A 16, canning, canning cookbooks, canning recipes, cookbooks, Kate Leahy, Paul Virant, pickles, preserves, SPQR, The Preservation Kitchen, Vie | Leave a Comment »
In honor of
National Grilling Memorial Day, I’ve decided to rerun this post on how to make the most kickass burgers you’ll ever taste. Really. Happy holiday weekend!
I have Depression-era parents. That’s why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread, and why there are spices in my mother’s pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and breadcrumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty kick-ass when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.
So, now that summer is finally here (yes, I realize it’s September but I live in Seattle), I thought I’d celebrate by firing up my metaphorical barbecue (I also live in an apartment at the moment), and share with you my tips for making a better burger.
*Remove your ground meat of choice from the fridge half an hour before you plan to make your burgers. You’re going to be adding stuff to it, and it will bind better if the meat isn’t too cold. Allow about one-and-a-half pounds for four people, depending upon what else you plan to serve. It’s always better to prepare too much than too little, and leftover burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.
*Open a beer (personally, I prefer cocktails or wine but raw meat flecks and smeary fingerprints on glasseware is just not sexy).
*Dump the meat into a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two largish handfuls of panko or breadcrumbs; make them yourself with leftover bread or score some discounted day-old stuff from a bakery or local dumpster. Storebought stuff works, too. Add another egg if the mixture seems too dry. The point of these two ingredients is two-fold. The egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while the breadcrumbs increase your yield and ensure your burger won’t end up festering in your colon for the next several months.
*Be sure to wash your hands after handling the egg and raw meat, and keep them separate from any utensils or ingredients you plan to use on raw food. E. coli is also not sexy.
*Add to meat one large shallot, minced, and at least three cloves of garlic, also finely minced. I always add a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire, for added flavor. Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley or chives. Ground lamb with mint is also wonderful.
*Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well using your hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. To determine if your seasoning is right on, fry up a pinch of the mixture. Form into one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and gently! patting them into shape. Resist the urge to fondle too much, as it will compact the meat, making for a dry, tough burger. If you make them slider-sized, you’ll be able to double fist, clutching burger in one hand and beer in the other. I may not like greasy glasses, but I’m a huge advocate of eating and drinking ambidextrously.
I always make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that’s what my mom did to prevent “shrinkage.” I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make you look like a wise old kitchen sage. You can make the burgers up to a day ahead; if you’ve got a crowd, place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from glomming on to one another. Bring up to room temperature before grilling.
*Preheat your grill or flat-top. Have another drink while you’re waiting.
*When coals are ashy and white and you’ve got some flame going, lightly oil the grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. If you’re using a pan, get it smoking hot and brown both sides of the meat for better flavor. Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you’ve thrown down cash for good meat.
*Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they’ll taste better and it will help prevent the condiments from making them soggy.
*One more drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends or significant other clean up.
Lamb makes great burgers, too!
Depending upon your budget and the state of your arteries, you can opt for lean ground beef (around the eight- to ten-percent fat range), or go big on something 20- to 25-percent fat. Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat–it’s a necessary component, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. I recommend grassfed- and -finished beef for health, humanity, and flavor reasons, but bear in mind it’s lower in fat and shouldn’t be cooked past medium-rare.
Chuck is the most popular and economical, and provides a good fat and flavor balance. When purchasing, look for a bright, pinky-red color, and if cellophane-wrapped, avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise bio-hazardous. Tempting as it may be to purchase the preformed, opaque-packaged, phallic “chubs,” refrain. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied up pet food.
If you’re on a tight budget, however, even if you buy the $2.99/lb. ghetto
grind, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly great egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and decaying vegetation (Those of you with McNugget crumbs around your mouths shouldn’t look so horrified) and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow yolks packed full of all kinds of that healthy antioxidant crap. They’re a great, inexpensive protein source on their own, and so much better than pale, watery, flavorless commercial eggs that are god knows how old.
[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged barbecuing; grills, bbq, beef, burgers, cheeseburgers, grassfed beef, grilling, hamburgers, meat, organic beef, sustainable meat | Leave a Comment »
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?
Posted in Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Meaty treats, Misc., Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged clam digs, clamming, clams, Dosewallips State Park, foraged foods, foragers, foraging, geoduck, giant clam, mirugai, Olympic Peninsula, Puget Sounds, Seattle, shellfish licenses, Washington state | 1 Comment »
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
Posted in Drink, Food, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Seasonal eating, Travel | Tagged Adventure travel, Andes skiing, Atacama, Chile, Chilean wine, Chiloe, Futaleufu River, Patagonia, rafting, San Pedro de Atacama, skiing Chile, Valle Nevado, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, whitewater, wine tasting | Leave a Comment »
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
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
Posted in Cooking, Food, Meaty treats, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged farmers market recipes, farmers markets, radishes, salad recipes, salads, San Francisco Ferry Building, Seattle, smoked fish, smoked trout | Leave a Comment »
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]
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Misc., Recipes | Tagged cartoons, cheese, cheese snacks, hanker for a hunka cheese, pop culture, schoolhouse rock, snacks, timer, wagon wheels | 1 Comment »
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]
Posted in Food, Misc. | Tagged death, death row, dinner, forensic pathology, forensics, KFC, last meals, last suppers, serial killers | Leave a Comment »
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