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Somm Whitney Adams breaks down a PBR pairing

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?

Him: Both!

Oh, Carlton. Oh, Whitney. The industry needs more people like you. Thanks for existing and inspiring.

Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

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

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

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

The Eagle caught my attention for two reasons. A. He was gorgeous in a lanky, rockabilly 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

Photo love: shutterstock.com

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

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

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

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

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

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

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

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

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

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

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

He blinked. “Um, I don’t have it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love.

Photo love: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

Photo love: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apres ski for Dummies

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

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

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

Currently in rotation at my house.

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

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

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

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


Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

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

After nearly a decade of attending the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, I’ve honed my ability to mingle with the Other Half to a finely chiseled shiv. It’s not so much that I look the part, but that I generally 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.

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

Photo love: Betabrand

Photo love: Betabrand

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

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

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

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

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

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

IMG_2321 (2)

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

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

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

fc,550x550,creme

Photo love: redbubble.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Billy Currie

Photo love: Billy Currie

Breast wishes

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

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

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

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

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

Dumplings!

Dumplings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Jules' stand-in

This is Jules’ stand-in

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

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

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

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

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

View of Clovelly Beach on our "sccchtruuudel" stroll

View of Clovelly Beach on our “sccchtruuudel” stroll

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

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

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

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

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

Go climb a mule

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

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

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

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

Have any groovy travel T memories? Share them here.

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

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

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

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

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

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

 

 

 

Bacon, bacon, bacon

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

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

CB signs

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

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

Bonus: I’m apparently no longer a narcissistic a-hole for taking selfies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1680

IMG_1688

and yeah, okay, this:

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

Thanks to my Gadling colleague/strip club partner-in-crime Sean McLachlan, for asking me to contribute to the Travel Tips & Hacks blog.

Click on the link for my sage advice on how to stay healthy while eating dodgy street foods. Tip: You’ll never regret carrying Imodium in your daypack.

Peruvian salsa vendor

Peruvian salsa vendor, Laurel Miller

2858663195_33daebbafa (2)

Photo love: Mike, Flickr

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

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

 

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

Photo love: matt, Flickr

Photo love: matt, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Tc Morgan

Photo love: Tc Morgan

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.

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.

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

Walk this way...

Walk this way…

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

Photo love: delish.com

Photo love: delish.com

“He looks like Ed Hardy fucked a Juggalo.”

That sums it up nicely, I think.

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

Photo love: Flickr user FotoKatolik

Photo love: Flickr user FotoKatolik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercado Campesino, Tupiza

Mercado Campesino, Tupiza

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

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

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

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

hoja de coca

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

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

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

A. They have mannequins like these, instead.

I will eat your soul.

mannequin1

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

There is no escape.

There is no escape.

El Mundo pequeno, no?

citr

Photo love: Flickr user K.Hurley

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

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

CITRUS COMPOTE IN GINGER-STAR ANISE SYRUP

serves 4

5 cups water

¾ cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

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

3 star anise pods

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

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

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

3 kumquats, cut into paper-thin slices

fresh mint leaves, julienned, for garnish

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

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

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

© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2000.

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

Photo love: Flickr user pmarkham

Photo love: Flickr user pmarkham

Holiday in Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fungal fall salad

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®

Nature vs Nuture

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.

Bless this mess

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.

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

3 eggs

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.

Raw foodists really have it tough.

Too soon?

Photo love: zombiesurvivalcourse.com

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!

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Sourcing

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.

Bon appetit!

[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]

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

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

[Photo love: Langdon Cook]

Got geodick…er, duck?

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

Laguna Chaxa, Atacama

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

Photo love: Flickr user Stellas mom

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

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

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

SMOKED TROUT, GRAPEFRUIT & WATERMELON RADISH SALAD

serves 4

Vinaigrette

2 T. Champagne vinegar

salt, to taste

2 t. finely minced shallot

2 T. lemon juice

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

5 c. baby arugula or watercress

2 medium pink grapefruit or two medium blood oranges, segmented

one medium watermelon radish, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible

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

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

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

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

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

© The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2004

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

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

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

[Photo love: Kurt's Shirts]

Here’s a groovy little video of butcher Tom Mylan breaking down a side of pork into various subprimal cuts, aka “slab bacon, ham, chops, tenderloin…”  The clip is a promo for the iPad guide, The Better Bacon Book: Make, Cook, and Eat Your Way to Cured Pork Greatness (Open Air Publishing).  Bacon makes everything better, and far be it from me to withhold such information from the masses.

Photo love: Flickr user johnmuk

If you’ve never seen a side of meat broken down, I also recommend checking out Mylan at work: he’s more methodical than what you’ll see at your average pig comp butchery showdown, so you can really get an idea of how half a swine becomes your dinner. Happy cracklin’s!

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

John Wayne Gacy had nothing on the Colonel

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

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

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

[Photo love: Flickr user tarotastic]

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