Brook and Rose LeVan raise heritage turkeys on their Colorado ranch, Sustainable Settings.
Every year at this time, my family and I duke it out over the turkey. It’s not about, “Should we brine it or deep-fry?” or, “Do we baste it with cultured butter made by blind Norman nuns or massage it with a dry-rub of hand-harvested spices grown on an 8th-century Kerala plantation?”
Sorry to disappoint, but with the Miller’s, the conversation always comes down to this (the following are direct quotes I’ve received from family members this month):
“I found a pre-brined turkey at Trader Joe’s. ”
“Why would you pre-order a turkey? You’re the only one who cares about its upbringing.”
So, despite the Butterball currently residing in my parents’ refrigerator (my flying in from out-of-state makes lugging a fresh turkey from a friend’s farm logistically impossible), I’d like to share my recent Edible Aspen article on pasture-raised turkeys.
In this big, complicated country of ours- where we have so many choices with regard to our food supply– it’s about doing the best you can. Armageddon will not occur when said Butterball lands on the dinner table- but I firmly believe that as consumers all, we have a moral obligation to educate ourselves and our children about where our food comes from. As consumers, we deserve to have access to that information, regardless of our socioeconomic status. Wholesome, responsibly-raised and -grown food shouldn’t be a luxury for anyone, but realistically, we must rely upon integrated agriculture to feed our growing domestic- and global- population.
Worrying about how my Thanksgiving turkey was raised is a First-World problem, and for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, America.
Photo love: Epicurious
Posted in Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged heritage turkeys, industrial turkey production, pasture raised poultry, pasture raised turkeys, Thanksgiving, turkey | Leave a Comment »
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia- get there via the frontera town of Tupiza.
When Refinery29 asked me to write a feature on the “Top 29 Affordable Trips to Take This Summer,” the criteria was to keep the cost under a hundred bucks a day.
My personal travel budget- even when I’m not on assignment- falls far south of that number, but since I wasn’t allowed to include “sleep in your car” or “camp out in five-star hotel bathroom,” I had my work cut out for me. I’m the kind of traveler who keeps baby wipes (so versatile!) in my daypack at all times and embraces the logistical challenges of Third World public transit. Not exactly what my editor had in mind.
18-hour bus ride back to Kathmandu following two-week trek and whitewater trip, sans shower. Happy place.
Still, it wasn’t difficult to come up with 29 entries where you’ll get more than your rupee’s/bhat/dong/dollar’s/riel’s worth. My love of these places is the result of a synergystic melding of their aesthetic and cultural attributes, combined with memorable food/people/outdoor adventures. Consider this post an inspirational guideline for what’s possible, no matter how anemic your budget. Happy travels.
A half-day motorbike tour of the Vietnamese countryside cost $20 (and I learned how to make rice paper if this writing thing doesn’t pan out).
Posted in Food, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Street food, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged affordable travel, Australia, backpacking, Bolivia, Budget travel, cheap travel, cheap travel destinations, hostels, Paraguay, South America, Southeast Asia, Sydney | Leave a Comment »
A year ago today, a 7.2 earthquake struck Nepal. I missed the disaster by 24 hours. I’d been in Nepal for two weeks to trek, run the remote Tamur River, and research a feature for culture: the word on cheese, on Nepali cheesemaking. The story, which was slated to run last fall, was by necessity postponed to this spring; most of the cheesemakers I profiled were affected by the earthquake, but fortunately, they suffered only minor losses and no casualties.
Churrpi- dried yak cheese- air-dries in Gufa Pokari
On this, the anniversary of Nepal’s deadliest natural disaster, I’m sharing my culture feature in its entirety. It includes relief donation information (still critically needed), but it also it shows the beauty, generosity of spirit, and resilience of the Nepali people. It’s my dairy-centric love letter to the most incredible country I’ve ever visited.
“It’s perhaps the most unlikely spot on earth to taste locally made, French-style cheeses: the rooftop of an apartment building in the Lazimpat neighborhood of Kathmandu. It’s April 10, 2015, two weeks before a devastating earthquake will level much of the city and villages throughout this region of Nepal, causing an avalanche on Mount Everest and resulting in over 9,000 fatalities. An aftershock on May 12 will cause further devastation and increase the death toll.
At the moment, however, I’m sitting with French cheesemaker François Driard in a high-rise urban oasis that seems a million miles from the smog and chaos below, watching the sun set and sipping Pastis between bites of his superb tomme. Driard owns Himalayan French Cheese and produces a diverse array of pasteurized cow’s and yak’s milk cheeses at his two creameries in the foothills of some of the highest mountains in the world.
I’ve been fascinated with Nepali cheesemaking since researching my book, Cheese for Dummies, mostly because little has been written about it. Last spring I traveled there to explore both rural cheesemaking traditions and how Kathmandu-area producers such as Driard are modernizing their craft for a feature in the Autumn 2014 issue of culture. But nature had other plans. Now it’s also a story about how Nepal and the cheesemakers I met there are moving on, one year after the country’s deadliest natural disaster on record.”
Read the rest of the story here.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel | Tagged churrip, Himalayan French Cheese, Nepal, Nepal cheese, Nepal earthquake, Nepali cheesemakers, Tamur River, yak cheese | Leave a Comment »
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
If you’ve ever platonically loved and lost while on the road, don’t feel bad. Shared adventures and totally fucked up circumstances often make for great- if short-term- friendships (as well as strange bedfellows, but that’s a different post). It’s a common phenom that I explore in this post on Refinery29. Sometimes, it really isn’t you- it’s them. Or me.
Posted in International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel | Tagged friend flings, solo travel, travel buddies, women's travel | Leave a Comment »
It may come as a surprise to learn that Colorado now ranks second in the nation for the most distilleries (after Washington state). We’re more than just craft beer and ski resorts, baby.
I had the good fortune to research (ahem), curate, and write Edible Aspen’s inaugural Colorado Craft Distillery Guide, which just hit the stands in the Winter issue.
Photo love: Wood’s High Mountain Distillery
From small-batch eaux de vie made with farmstead fruit to one of the nation’s greenest distilleries, we’ve got the intel on where to find the best tasting rooms, tours, grain-to-glass spirits, and bar programs in the state (with some recipes, to boot). Happy hols, y’all.
These heirloom potatoes become award-winning vodka. Photo love: Woody Creek Distillers
Posted in Drink, Misc., Recipes, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged bourbon, cirrhosis, cocktails, colorado, Colorado distilleries, craft distilleries, craft spirits, distilleries, grain to glass, spirits, whiskey | Leave a Comment »
Photo love: Fruit Maven
“How do you retire from doing what you love the most?”
Glenn Austin, a 72-year-old seventh-generation peach farmer, recently posed this rhetorical question as we wrapped up our interview for an Edible Aspen feature. He and his wife of 55 years had just taken their first non-work-related vacation, and while they enjoyed the trip, they were happy to return to their 26 acres of high-altitude paradise on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Peach farming reminded me of the six years I spent slinging stonefruit at Bay Area farmers’ markets– a formative and formidable time when I was trying to find my footing as a cooking teacher and food writer. In 2000, I was four years out of culinary school and living in Berkeley- epicenter of the nation’s sustainable food movement. I was working multiple jobs to get by, while simultaneously launching a home-based cooking school and journalism career. Back then, my energy was boundless, and my back a hell of a lot stronger.
What I most wanted at that time was a job at the farmers market, both for the education and industry contacts. It was difficult to infiltrate the ranks of the vendor community, because the most-coveted farms had little employee turnover. I’d gotten to know some of these folks in between teaching, waiting tables, and working in kitchens, and I yearned to become part of the tight-knit market clan.
Happy place. Photo love: Jason Dewey Photography
Deliverance came one afternoon when I was getting my weekly dog fix from the puppy at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand. Owner “Farmer Al” Courchesne’s peaches were the stuff of legend in the Bay Area; his luscious stonefruit appeared on the menus of the region’s most influential restaurants of the day, including Chez Panisse, Oliveto, and Zuni Cafe. A peach, Al was fond of saying, “is like sex in a fuzzy skin.”
I’d gotten to know Al’s wife, Becky, as an occasional customer (their stuff ain’t cheap). Perhaps she was just sick of me molesting her dog but rarely purchasing fruit, or maybe she took pity on me. Whatever the case, Becky hired me and thus began my glorious career as a part-time peach and pastry pusher. For over half a decade, I worked three markets a week in Berkeley and San Francisco, year-round.
I gleefully did manual labor, unloading and loading the farm truck, setting up tables and pop-up tents, hefting up to 50 pounds of fruit at a time, and tying down loads. My hands were callused, my nails perpetually dirty, my body bruised, my skin a cancer-cultivating hue. Al was a mercurial taskmaster. But I loved the job. I was also totally ripped, my refrigerator overflowed with peerless product (bartering being the raison d’etre for working low-paying market jobs) and I had a wonderfully diverse group of friends and colleagues who shared my passion for food and family farms.
Death-gripping a pretzel, age two.
By 2003, I’d transitioned to food and travel writing (Becky, more than anyone, is responsible for encouraging me to do so), and contributed to several Lonely Planet guidebooks. The following is an abridged excerpt from World Food California, for which I wrote an essay on the Berkeley Farmers Market:
If…waiting tables is a challenge in Berkeley, then try selling food products at its farmers’ markets…due to any number of food sensitivities, aversions, allergies, purported allergies, or political statements. When Becky, a gifted pastry chef, started making organic jam and pastries from the farm’s fruit, she was fulfilling a longtime dream of turning the raw ingredients growing right outside her kitchen into edible offerings that reflected the soul of the farm.”
I severely underestimated the high-maintenance requirements of Berkeley’s food militia, but despite the occasional verbal assaults from pissed-off vegans and early-adopting gluten-phobes, most of our customers were pretty cool. The people-watching never failed to disappoint. Entertainment came in the form of observing Berkeley’s resident weirdos, busting thieving kids and derelicts (my nickname was “The Enforcer”), and trying to prevent customers from double-dipping when tasting our jams.
Becky’s tarts on display. Photo love: Edible Excursions
“Freeloaders and freaks, homeless and housewives, children and chefs…the market is a truly special place to work. To be surrounded by people so connected to the land and so committed to preserving California’s precious resources, growers of exquisite produce, food artisans of a quality equal to any found in Europe; these are the reasons I stay...There’s a camaraderie that exists amongst the market vendors. We’re a family. We support one another. I’ll trade you some first-of-the-season Burlat cherries for some of your haricot verts.
The market offers a respite from the urban racket. It’s an oasis of green, earthly things, a refuge from the ever-growing parade of strip malls and tract homes that threaten to engulf our agricultural land. I can think of no other community so deeply dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture, or of so many chefs and consumers enamored of cooking and eating the fresh, the seasonal, the local.”
Some Colorado Easter Egg radishes.
As much as I loved the market, I began a slow but inevitable burn-out. I called my conundrum the “velvet handcuffs” because I didn’t know how to a leave a secure job (Becky and Al were nothing if not supportive of my writing career, allowing me to take off as much time as needed for assignments) with decent pay (Al believed in rewarding hard work). I spent nearly two years agonizing, until the combination of a bad breakup and a collapsing housing market made the decision for me. It was time to move on.
Eventually, I ended up back in Colorado, always my longterm goal. I love my rural life in the Rocky Mountains, in a valley nationally renown for its sustainable agriculture. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss being part of a market community, and the happy exhaustion that comes at the end of a long, physically demanding work day. I’ll never get used to the short growing season, lack of indigenous citrus, and crappy tomatoes. My fridge is far more anemic, since my freelance budget doesn’t permit splurges on walnut oil, fresh chestnut flour pasta, duck fat, or dry-farmed heirloom produce- bartered items I once took for granted.
Yet, moving here has finally enabled me to earn a living as a writer. True, writing softens you in ways the physical demands of restaurant and farm work don’t- muscle tone and posture are the first to go, followed by the ability to think quickly on your feet and interact with other Homo sapiens. But writing also hardens you. To rejection, setbacks, and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Writing isn’t an occupation for those with weak constitutions, a shitty work ethic, or lack of passion. But then, neither is being a chef. Or a farmer.
“How do you retire from doing what you love the most?”
I don’t know. I hope I’m never able to tell you.
Glenn and Tony Austin. Photo love: Austin Family Farm
Posted in Cooking, Food, Misc., Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Berkeley Farmers market, California cuisine, farming, Frog Hollow Farm, imaginary food phobias, Lonely Planet World Food, organic food, peaches, stonefruit, sustainable agriculture | Leave a Comment »
Catching water taxi, Cambodia; May 9, 2015. Photo love: Ania Kolarska
Introducing my first-ever post on Refinery29. Can you believe a red hot fashion-y site let me contribute? Neither can I, but I’m super stoked on this piece, “10 Reasons Why Women Should Travel Solo.” Read it for inspiration and motivation to take that dream trip, stat.
P.S. Dudes, I’m not sexist. You go get your solo on, too. Go on, git.
This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Posted in International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Xanax | Tagged Cambodia, Refinery29, solo travel, travel alone, travel solo, women's travel | Leave a Comment »
Signage at Angkor Wat
I didn’t plan to come to Cambodia. Not that I hadn’t dreamed about it. It’s simply that Laos won the mental coin toss when I was planning my post-Nepal travel. But then I woke up one morning, two weeks ago, and hopped a flight to Siem Reap. Five days spent lazing about indulging in the charms of Luang Prabang (in my case, street food, banana shakes, and $5 massages- sans happy endings- rather than hookers and opium) had left me feeling too much the douchey Western tourist.
I craved action, adventure, perhaps a touch of almost-danger. Cambodia beckoned. Upon landing, I bought a bootleg copy of Lonely Planet Cambodia (yes, I realize many of my fellow travelers see that as a douchey Western tourist thing to do; to them I say, “I like to know where the fuck I am.”).
I gave the Siem Reap section a quick look before hitting the streets. I noted with interest that the city’s most notorious con is the “milk scam,” in which a child or woman with an infant begs a tourist to buy them formula. Unsuspecting mark goes to store with grifter, and is talked into purchasing the most expensive brand. The proceeds are then split between the con and the shopkeeper. Seemed pretty harmless, as far as these things go.
Yes, Pub St. is douchey, Western, touristy. But still kind of fun. Photo love: Massageprices
Not five minutes later, I was accosted by a filthy street urchin in the midst of bustling Pub Street. He couldn’t have been more than eight. He tugged my arm as I passed.
Kid: “Please, I hungry. Milk. I need milk. Buy me milk.”
Dazed from sweating out a week’s worth of electrolytes after just one hour in Siem Reap heat, I agreed. Then, logic kicked in and I realized I was being scammed. The following is a verbatim and completely unembellished account of what happened next:
Me: Um, no, no milk. Fruit. Fruit healthy, I buy you fruit.
Kid (raising voice in angry manner): No! Milk. I need milk! Milk!
Me: No. Fruit. I buy you fruit, yes? What kind you want?
Kid (pretending to weep loudly, yet obviously incredibly pissed off): You said you buy milk. I so hungry. I need MILK! MILK! YOU BUY ME! YOU PROMISE!
Me (uncertain what to do, casting nervous glance around and notice entire patio of adjacent tourist restaurant is watching this little melodrama with interest): I know what I said, but I change mind. No milk. Fruit. Yes or no?
Kid (morphing into miniature version of Pol Pot): NO NO NO! MILK. I.WANT.MILK! MILK! YOU BUY ME MILK NOW! NOW!
Me (totally over this and trying to edge away): Nope. No milk. Only fruit.
Kid (screaming at top of lungs to attract maximum attention to evil round-eye lady who hates Cambodian children of the street): YOU LIE! YOU LIE! YOU PROMISE ME MILK!
He then lowers his voice so only I can hear, and says, “You fucking bitch.” Then he punches me. Hard. On my ass.
I reacted without thinking, grabbing his shoulder and shaking it. “NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT. IT IS NOT OKAY! YOU GET NOTHING!” [good thing I decided not to have kids, no?]
Kid (attempting to vaporize me with his demonic eyes): Fuck you, fucking bitch.
As I stood in the street in a state of shock, the male half of a sympathetic British couple sitting on the patio told me, “We ran into him yesterday. He’s very aggressive.”
Me: He’s a monster.
Woman: “I refused to buy him milk. He stuck his hand down his pants, grabbed his penis, and wiped his hand on my face.”
Me: (rare moment of being rendered speechless)
I highly recommend visiting Cambodia, as it’s an incredible country, with warm, gracious people. Just watch out for the little bastard working the corner of Pub and Street 8.
Just add milk. Photo love: Crave Online
Posted in Food, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Travel | Tagged Cambodia, Cambodian scams, Cambodian street kids, milk scam, Pub Street, pure unadulterated evil, Siem Reap | Leave a Comment »
A. So a truck could run it over, enabling a guy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth to scoop it up 30 seconds later and cook it for breakfast.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Humane livestock management, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Street food, Travel | Tagged Lao food, Laos, roadkill, tastes like chicken | Leave a Comment »
Yes, this get-up really was necessary.
I have a broken heart.
I departed from Nepal, where I was researching a story, on Friday, April 24, exactly 24 hours before the earthquake. Because I was in transit to my current location in Laos and not checking email, I didn’t find out until the night of the tragedy. Needless to say, it’s been messing with my head ever since, as I spent my last days Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley, epicenter of the quake.
I was going to write about this entertaining, über-Nepali cheese delivery experience anyway, but given the circumstances, I also wanted to use it as a way to draw attention to the urgent need for relief efforts in the form of donations (for Red Cross, click here).
Consider this a good-natured love letter to Nepal, a country that showed me so much graciousness, humor, hospitality, and great times over the past two weeks. Please get well soon.
The lovely Mitra Kala Khanal, maker of yak cheese
As a former cheesemonger, marketing director for a cheese company, trade show ho, and educator, I’ve done my share of schlepping dairy products. While packing cheese into a cooler requires some organizational skills, it’s not exactly rocket science. This, of course, excludes the time I accidentally left an empty box from a shipment of washed rinds (read: stinky cheeses) in my car overnight during a heat wave. I spent nearly 15 minutes the following morning crawling underneath my car and peering into the fan belt and engine block trying to find the dead animal causing the unholy stench, before I clued in to my error.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit sort-of shotgun on a cheese delivery in the Kathmandu Valley. I was working on a Nepal cheese feature for culture: the word on cheese (look for it in the Spring ’16 issue pending circumstances; I’m still trying to find out if all of the cheesemakers I interviewed are okay), and was on my way to the Himalayan French Cheese (owned by entrepreneurial genius Frenchman Francois Driard). It’s located eight kilometers north of Kathmandu, epicenter of the quake. Accompanying me was Francois’ Nepali business partner and a driver, who was later going to drop me at Francois’s sister’s farmstay on the other side of Kathmandu.
How many wheels of cheese does it take to fill a Maruti Suzuki?
Let me explain something about driving in Nepal (beside the fact it’s done on the left). It’s motherfucking terrifying. I had just come off of a 17-hour ride in a clapped-out Indian bus (I suspect Uttar Pradesh traded it to Nepal for a plate of dal bhat), returning to Kathmandu across the Terai (Eastern Plains) after a 12-day trek/whitewater trip on the Tamur River. Tip: Xanax is also essential for developing nation long-haul bus rides, especially in cultures where the main objective is to drive as fast as possible whilst playing chicken with oncoming semi’s and other buses on high-mountain passes with blind curves. Good times.
These were our bus seats. No worries, we also had 500 lbs of bagged rice on the floor which made for comfy sleeping.
I digress. The point is, when you have a car the size of a Maruti Suzuki- essentially a SPAM can on wheels- there’s not much room to spare. With three passengers, my 40-pound backpack, a loaded daypack, and what turned out to be over 300 pounds of cheese (hefty wheels of lusty Belkot- Francois’ signature creation- as well as dozens of tommes, Reblochon, camembert, St. Marcellin, some trial bries, and buckets of yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta- there wasn’t much room to spare). It was also hellishly hot and humid.
After the cranky driver tied my backpack to the roof of the car with a piece of twine, I folded myself and my daypack into the back seat (which was broken, so it flipped forward at every application of the brakes, which in Nepal, like the use of the horn, is constant). Behind me were two loaded coolers and boxes; beside me was a cooler and a weathered cardboard box of tommes that split at the corner seam the first time our driver slammed on the brakes to avoid an oncoming suicidal motocyclist.
Francois’ lovely cheeses at rest
Thus, I spent the next 90 minutes with my left arm awkwardly bracing the torn box to prevent the pristine tommes from flying through the windshield, and having 175 pounds or so of Bellecotes slamming into my back and effectively bending me in half every time we braked. Because Kathmandu’s pollution (hello, inversion layer) is so epic, most locals wear face masks; I developed what I affectionately called KTM black lung on day two of my arrival. Thus, I was forced to wear a scarf around my nose and mouth to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning whilst holding down the dairy fort, so to speak.
Eventually, after bumping (shock absorbers? Hells no!) through back alleys and potholes big enough to swallow a water buffalo, we made it to the Kathmandu office of the cheese company, from which our precious cargo would be distributed to nearby restaurants and hotels.
All in a day’s work for an immgrant cheesemaker in Nepal, and a terrifically entertaining cultural experience for me. My thoughts are with all of my new Nepali friends and cheesemakers; thank you for an incredible trip and for showing me, in the words of churppi maker Mitra Kala Khanal, that, “In Nepal, cheese is life.”
Yak in the mist
Posted in Cheese, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, International travel, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Travel wellness | Tagged chhurip, Francois Driard, Himalayan French Cheese Company, Kathmandu, Kathmandu French restaurants, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, Nepal earthquake, Nepalese cheese, yak cheese | Leave a Comment »
Meet Alison Krauss; last year’s name theme was “music.”
To know me is to…know I have a thing for goats. Get your minds out of the gutter; I just mean that I adore caprines. Intelligent as dogs, with the individualized personalities of mules (two of my other fave furry critters), they’re also milk-making machines that yield the main ingredient for some of the world’s most delectable cheeses.
As if these aren’t reasons enough to dig goats, there’s nothing on this earth- nothing!– as adorable as their offspring. This is why, every spring, I willingly deprive myself of sleep and pull all-nighters at the dairies of cheesemaker friends near and far, so I can selfishly have 24/7 access to baby goats, and the birthing, bottle-feeding, and cuddling that go with.
I’m lucky to have award-winning Avalanche Cheese Company as a neighbor; last year I helped out with kidding and had the honor of being one of the first guests in the historic, renovated farmstay cabin at their dairy in Paonia. Formerly, it was cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell and family’s part-time home; they now live in Aspen full-time since she opened her insanely awesome restaurant/farm shop, Meat & Cheese. Which isn’t to say Wendy’s not still totally involved with life at the dairy and creamery, because she’s one of those freaks of nature possessed of boundless energy, ideas, and entrepreneurial prowess (luckily for us, her consumer base).
Happy hour at the cabin (cheese & salumi welcome basket included). Photo love: Avalanche Cheese Company
As the new Blog Creator for Edible Aspen, I ensured our first post was about Avalanche’s agriturismo, because their kidding season just kicked off and there’s no better time in which to spend a day or three on the farm. You can help out with the chores (no more bottle-feeding; this year, they’ve switched their herd management to the all-natural method of leaving the kids with the does until their weaned, more on that in my Edible post). But you can still spend time with the babies, chill out in one of the most scenic- and least-touristed- parts of Colorado and most important, totally get your goat geek on.
For booking info and the full post, click right here, s’il vous plaît.
Happy chevre season, and thanks to culture: the word on cheese for the link lovin’.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Outdoor adventures, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged agriturismos, Avalanche Cheese Company, Colorado cheesemakers, Colorado farmstays, farmstays, goat cheese, goat dairies, Paonia | 2 Comments »
Photo love: Slow Food London
Sometimes, I get to do really cool things like attend swanky events that would normally exclude a holey-jean-wearin’ dirtbag. Such was the case this past weekend, when I attended the second-annual Rare Craft Collection curated by The Balvenie Distillery (located in Dufftown, Scotland). The nine-stop tour hit Aspen’s historic Crystal Palace to feature an exhibition of 21 hand-crafted American artisan products– from hand-caned ping pong tables and bagpipes (natch) to chef’s knives. The highlight, however, was a master tasting class of The Balvenie’s exquisite collection of single-malt whiskies.
I’m a bourbon drinker, and prior to Saturday, I thought I hated Scotch. I know, it’ s a total chick thing to say: why drink peaty, dirty, leathery, when you can have toffee, vanilla, and honey? Turns out Scotch whisky varies wildly in character, depending upon the region is which it’s produced. This, among other things, is what I learned at the master class led by The Balvenie Brand Ambassador (and helluva mean bagpiper) Lorne Cousin. The 120-year-old family founded-and-run distillery is one of a few still doing things old-school, growing their own barley, malting and smoking it, and distilling it by hand (not by computer); they even have their own cooperage.
I also learned what monkey shoulder is, the glory that is a $200-a-bottle, 21-year whisky aged in a Port cask, why blends are the the ho’s of whisky production, and what Scotsmen really wear under their kilts (it’s not what you think). Want to know the dirty details? Read my recap of the evening for Curbed Ski.
PS. Pair this stuff with a an aged Gouda or Cheddar, and you will experience Nirvana.
Posted in Cheese, Drink, Food, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged Aspen, distilleries, Rare Craft Collection Road Show, Scotch, Scotch whisky, spirit pairings, The Balevenie, whisky | Leave a Comment »
Hillside Cemetery, Silverton, CO
Photo love: Live Do Grow
I think I sufficiently established in a recent post about my dad why I’m obsessed with pasttimes most (read: normal) people find revolting. While I do enjoy dead things- particularly mounting them on my walls- one thing I’m not into is the paranormal. For this, I may also thank my dad, who calls himself a “compulsive realist.” While I’m better able to suspend belief than him (seriously, he’s the only person who found “Star Wars” preposterous), never, at any time have I believed in ghosts, zombies, vampires (yawn), aliens, or their brethren. I did have a brief flirtation with Bigfoot at age 8, but that’s only because we were on a camping trip in Northern California and my brother persisted in fucking with my head all week.
But. I do love me a good cemetery. I’m not sure when or how this interest developed, but having visited boneyards big and small, famous and unknown the world over, I can say that I find them oddly relaxing, as well as a great way to learn about the cultural, religious, and medical histories of a community. I love to wander amongst the headstones, reading the names and wondering about the lives of those beneath my feet. What compelled them to travel so far, to such an isolated spot? What must have it been like for parents to lose three children in rapid succession (influenza?)? How would Jim Morrison feel knowing weepy dirtbags still populate his grave and litter it with cigarette butts and bottles of Jim Beam? And where the hell is Evita Peron’s tomb amongst all those vaults?
A seaside cemetery on the island of Chiloe, Chile
Given my life in ski towns, I have a particular fondness, and fascination for, Old West graveyards. I’m not what you’d call a history buff, but I love learning more about the (admittedly brutal) life of the pioneers, miners, ranchers, outlaws, and others who founded these mountain hamelets. Butch and Sundance may have ended up in Bolivia, but here in Colorado, you’ll find the remains of Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, Kid Curry, and others.
Ski towns are also notoriously haunted, if you’re a believer. I’m obviously not, but I do love the stories and history behind the saloons, hotels, former brothels, mines, and private homes allegedly besieged by spirits. This is why my editor at Curbed Ski tasked me with writing up some Halloween posts on the dead and undead sides of ski country. If you’re in the mood for some creepy, Halloween-style tales of murder, mayhem, and mine collapse, check ’em out…with the lights on, of course.
A grave at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico
Posted in Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Meaty treats, Misc., Outdoor adventures, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged cemeteries, colorado, ghost towns, graveyards, Halloween, history of ski towns, mining, mountain towns, Old West, ski towns | 1 Comment »
Crooked Stave’s divine Surete Provision Saison
Today kicks off Denver’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), so what better way to get all y’all inspired than to give you some guidelines for pairing beer and cheese? Few folks realize that cheese is easier to match with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grass-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles- toasty, malty, yeasty, nutty, etc.).
Despite being a long-time Colorado resident, I confess I only got into beer fairly recently (my aversion being due to the usual generalized chick reasons: bloating, sleepiness, emotional scarring from too many warm, shitty, skunky brewskis at college keggers, and a still-rampant dislike of turbo-hopped beers). Fortunately, being in the cheese industry and living in a state home to some of the nation’s top craft brewers has set me straight.
While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are exceptions to every rule. I say, eat and drink what you enjoy, dissenters and haters be damned. The cheese police are not going to come kick down your door. Still, a good match is, in the words of my lovely Cheese for Dummies co-author Lassa Skinner, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens. Here are some tips to bear in mind when you’re shopping for a pairing:
- Match intensities. A chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
- Bear terroir in mind. Don’t just assume “this beer style will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger (or buy my book!).
- Aim for similarities or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage.
- Strive for balance; when in doubt, I’d go for something light and effervescent, be it a cheap Mexican brew or a killer lambic or saison.
- Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it. Conversely, if you have a limited edition import, make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.
Hello, Cantillon Kriek.
I’ve compiled a little cheatsheet for you, to help you wrap your head around some basic beer and cheese love matches. Give these a try:
- Fresh cheeses like burrata, mozzarella, or chevre: Lager or Pils.
- Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: A fruit or vegetable beer, like Rumpkin barrel-aged pumpkin ale, from Avery Brewing Co.
- Floral, grassy, or ash-coated bloomy rinds, like La Tur and St. Marcellin: Lambics, Saisons, or a Trappist Ales.
- Blues: Try a fruity, non-assertive variety like Rogue River Blue (which is washed in brandy-soaked Syrah leaves) with a Kriek (cherry lambic) like Crooked Stave Mama Bear’s Sour Cherry Pie.
- Nutty alpine styles or hard, aged cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda, or Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese Company: Go for a Porter or Stout; the deep, rich, complex flavors will play well of the buttery rich, umami notes in the cheese.
- Washed rinds like Epoisses, Livorot, Pont l’Eveque, or funky domestics like Grayson, by Meadow Creek Dairy: Trappist ales, hard ciders, lambic, or floral IPA’s, baby.
- Semi-soft, mild cheeses like Jack or Havarti: Lager, Pilsner, or a Mexican cerveza.
- Aged cheeses like Beemster XO Gouda, robusto, or an alpine style like Gruyere will do right by a Porter or Stout.
Photo love: Murray’s Cheese
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Drink, Food, Misc., Seasonal eating, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged beer, beer and cheese, beer and cheese pairings, beer pairings, beer tastings, Colorado breweries, excuses to drink, GABF, Great American Beer Festival, lambics, pairing beer, pairing beer and cheese, pairng cheese, saisons | Leave a Comment »
Yes, I slaughtered this lamb. Don’t judge.
People (and by “people,” I mean, friends, visitors to my home, landlords, and former boyfriends) often ask me, “Laurel, why are you such a freak? What is it that compels you to collect animal skulls and other skeletal fragments?” The former boyfriends are also wont to comment, “Laurel, your obsession with forensic reality TV and willingness to participate in livestock and poultry slaughter frightens me.” Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m impervious to animal urine, shit, vomit, and roadkill. Changing a diaper? Hells no. Curing the skull from a found deer carcass for three months as a cool “souvenir” from a summer living in Telluride? No problem.
From a work standpoint, my editors love that I’m also a human garbage can, willing to eat anything (sketchy street food, insects, tadpoles, animal testicles and weird meaty odds and ends). They’re somewhat baffled by my enthusiasm, but as long as it results in a good story, they’re cool with it.
I’ve given my strange proclivities a lot of thought, and the only source of blame I can point to is my dad, Dr. Robert M. Miller, aka RMM, Bob, or “Doc.” Most people assume that being the child of a veterinarian (a large and exotic vet, at that) isn’t all that different from having a parent who’s an MD, if they think about it at all.
At the castration of a circus elephant. 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 post-op and sang out, “I feel 30 years younger!”
The point I’m trying make is that the man is a freak of nature, a machine who, were it not for his fused ankle, would still be skiing with my 81-year-old mother. A world-renown equine vet and behaviorist, he rises at dawn every morning to write or cartoon (he’s the author of over a dozen books on horses and eight rather warped cartoon books, has been contributing to veterinary journals and equine publications for over 50 years, and is probably the only living journalist who can get away with submitting longhand, as he doesn’t know how to type). He rides and swims daily, and still travels all over the world lecturing on natural horsemanship and equine behavior. If he were wont to use such language, he’d say, “Retirement is for pussies.”
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 my adolescence, we’ve had an often-contentious relationship, mainly because we’re both stubborn as hell, tough as the proverbial rawhide, and will debate endlessly because neither of us are willing to admit defeat. It’s doubtless been a challenge for him, given his generation, to have an opinionated, foul-mouthed, dirtbag daughter entirely lacking in maternal instinct (except where animals are concerned), and for whom marriage is an antiquated notion (meanwhile, he and my mom have been married for 58 years).
Lake Powell, 1972. I do have a mom; she’s our photographer.
While he no doubt prefers I’d shut the hell up, find a man, and stop this crazy nomadic behavior, Dad has long been supportive of my gadding about the world, and subsequent attempts to eke out a living writing about it. The Millers aren’t the most verbally communicative folk, and given my dad’s love of the written word (another trait we obviously share), I wanted to use this forum to publicly share my admiration of him, as well as give our friends and family a bit more insight into the man behind the elbow-length OB gloves.
I love you, Daddy. Get well soon.
Postscript, August 29, 2014:
One month to the day after my dad’s cardiac surgeries, he landed on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he conducted his seminars at the Hawaii Horse Expo. As I write, he and my mom are enjoying a much-deserved rest on Maui. Their 58th wedding anniversary is September 16.
Big Island, August, 2014
Posted in Cheese, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, International travel, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged aging parents, aortic valve replacement, collection animal fragments, Dr. Robert M Miller, DVM, elderly parents, equine behavior, equine veterinarianes, exotic animal veterinarians, imprint training, large animal veterinarians, mitral valve replacement, Most of my Patients are Animals, natural horsemanship, open heart surgery, picky eaters, revolution in horsemanship, RMM, travel addiction, veterinarians, We Treat Aardvarks, Yes | 16 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 as 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 »
Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr
I met The Eagle my first day of culinary school. It was June 4, 1995, and 32 of us milled outside the small admin office located beneath a popular pub in Lionshead. We were slated to become the 2nd graduating class from the Vail “campus” of Johnson & Wales University, and every single one of us was newly arrived in Colorado.
We eyed one another warily, the Class of 1996 being the typical group of food service miscreants, second careerists, and rich kids. Our ages ranged from early twenties to late 50s (that guy lasted less than a semester, having realized vocational cooking is the domain of the young). I was one of eight women- none of whom, it was quickly and unanimously decided by the male faction- “could cook our way out of a paper bag.” Dickheaded. But accurate.
I was the only student from the Western U.S. My classmates were nearly all from the Deep South or Northeast, and we were utterly foreign to one another. Although I became fast friends with a clutch of guys who ran the gamut from Jersey Guido to Fort Lauderdale player, they still lived to take the piss out of me. The first night, as we settled into the grotty employee housing that was to be our temporary home (the now-demolished Sunbird Lodge was affectionately known by all in Vail as the Scumbird), one of my friends-to-be, a hulking former postal worker from Pennsylvania, walked past my room and saw me gnawing on a vegetarian sushi roll. “What the hell is that?” he demanded with a look of contempt. Upon hearing my response, he snorted, “Fuckin’ hippie,” and stomped down the hall.
RIP, Scumbird. Plastic Bavaria stands in its place. Photo credit: BringFido.com
The Eagle caught my attention for two reasons. A. He was gorgeous in a lanky, rockabilly Ed Burns way (even today, the culinary arts aren’t known for attracting lookers, certain hipster mixologists notwithstanding), and B. I detected a kindred spirit. Within minutes of meeting, we were sitting on the steps outside, chatting and laughing like old friends.
We quickly established our mutual love of alt indie bands, snarkiness, farming and foraging, tattoos, and meat (he was from Kansas City and a former steakhouse line cook; among his favorite childhood memories were the times his dad took him to the neighborhood butcher shop to buy top sirloin; once home, they’d lovingly grind the meat by hand to make hamburgers). Indeed, The Eagle knew more about food and cooking than anyone I’d met; he was fiercely intelligent and opinionated, with a sardonic wit that delighted me. He was an intensely talented cook, and in the years after graduation, he worked in some of the most nation’s most prestigious kitchens.
Our friendship was based as much on mutual attraction as commonality (we were both- pardon the pun- odd birds in a class full of them). Within 48 hours of meeting, we were making out in his twin bed- as fate would have it, he lived next door to me. Just as things heated up, however, he pulled away and admitted that he had a girlfriend. Things remained platonic for some years after that, but our friendship grew. After class or on weekends, we’d hike, listen to music in his room (he smoking an ever-present joint), or take spontaneous road trips in pursuit of good things to eat. We learned to snowboard.
Photo love: shutterstock.com
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.
Strange but true: this poem is on the hotel that replaced The Scumbird Lodge, right around the corner from The Eagle’s former roost.
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 | 5 Comments »
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: 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 »
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 »
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 »
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-out 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 »
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 »
People often ask what inspired me to become a food writer and cooking instructor. I think they expect to hear heartwarming recollections of a childhood spent beside my mother at the stove, and reminiscences of glorious holiday repasts, table groaning with the bounty from our garden. They anticipate my memories of milking goats, and tangy chevre on homemade bread for an after-school snack. They imagine my Russian grandmother frying latkes for breakfast (using eggs I’d collected from our flock of Rhode Island Reds).
And, to a certain degree, there is truth in these examples. Looking back, I’m quite certain my formative experiences with food are what shaped my career. But the reality is that, while I grew up on a small ranch, the daughter of a large animal veterinarian and a former barrel-racing-champion-turned-homemaker, my own culinary education had a few…inconsistencies.
I did watch my mom cook sometimes; she still has a way with instant mashed potatoes and cracks open a mean jar of Prego. Our neighbors had a garden, and at the age of ten, I established a roadside produce stand, yet Birds-Eye was still a staple at my own dinner table. The eggs I gathered each morning (when I wasn’t being held hostage in the henhouse by our sadistic asshole of a rooster) were whisked by my mother in a microwave-proof bowl, before being nuking into rubbery oblivion. I was in college before I learned that scrambled eggs aren’t traditionally made in a microwave.
My paternal grandmother was the daughter of a Russian émigré. Grandma Miller possessed a heavy New York accent, and she was—my dad will agree—the worst cook this side of Minsk. The (real, not instant) potatoes in her latkes were an oxidized grey, the resulting pancakes flabby and greasy from improperly heated oil. Small wonder I was the pickiest eater on the planet, utterly exasperating my Depression-era parents who, let’s face it, were only trying to embrace the advent of convenience foods.
“What breed of dog am I, you ask?”
The one time my mom tried making yogurt and cheese from our goat’s milk (she was having an early 1970’s back-to-the-land moment), the results were not exactly edible. In retrospect, I don’t think she realized the milk required starter cultures. So we instead drank goat milk by the gallon, and in the process my family became huge caprine aficionados. We bred our Nubian doe, Go-Go, every year, and ended up keeping several of her doelings; the bucks we donated to Heifer Project International. For my part, I adored our goats. Even when I fed Go-Go an uninflated balloon, it was with the best of intentions (it was Easter, and I thought she’d appreciate its pretty pink color).
In sixth grade, I decided to follow in my older brother’s footsteps and raise goats for a 4-H project. I bounced out of bed each morning to milk Rose, a distant relative of the late Go-Go (who died of natural causes, not from ingesting peony-hued rubber). Despite my rural upbringing, our property was located in a peaceful canyon only a couple of miles from what is today a populous, yuppified bedroom community of Los Angeles. There were a few other families with children up the road, but I was the only one living on a ranch.
The rooms at Westlake Elementary School were packed with upper-middle-class, mostly white kids, and it turned out they didn’t share my goaty enthusiasm. It was Jason Racinelli, a criminal in the making if ever there was one, who dubbed me “Goat Girl.” It was the first week of school, and as part of our “What I Did for Summer Vacation” oral reports, I’d waxed poetic about Rose and the wonders of lactation. If memory serves, I even passed around Dixie cups of her milk for my classmates to taste.
I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from school in our geriatric wood-paneled station wagon, when Jason appeared by my side. He looked me up and down, a sneer on his handsome face. “Hey Goat Girl,” he drawled, leaning in close and taking a long, exaggerated sniff. “You smell like a goat. Why would anyone want a goat, anyway? Why do you even go to this school? Why don’t you go back to your stupid farm?”
Mercifully, my mom arrived at that moment, but before I could escape to the safety of the car and the slobbery kisses of our three dogs, Jason yelled, “’Bye, Goat Girl! Don’t forget to wear your overalls tomorrow!”
I think it’s pretty safe to say that someone, somewhere, eventually kicked Jason Racinelli’s ass to Kingdom Come or incarcerated him. Unfortunately, before that could happen, I essentially became known as Goat Girl for the remainder of the year, and developed several nervous tics that abated only after we sold Rose and I instead concentrated on raising rabbits (fuzzy, rodent-like creatures were apparently on the list of “cool” pets to own). I don’t recall exactly when I allowed my goat obsession to resurface, but suffice it to say, I’m now a contributing editor at culture: the word on cheese and live in Seattle, one of the few cities in the U.S. that allows residents to keep backyard dairy goats.
So, while my somewhat dichotomous culinary upbringing played a large role in my career of choice, I usually opt for a shorter, easier, wholly truthful answer. “I became a food writer because when I was eight years old and walking my brother’s goat at the county fair, a middle-aged man asked me, “What type of dog is that?” It was at that moment I realized: most people don’t have a fucking clue where their food comes from.”
Thanks, Mom and Dad. And yeah, you too, Jason Racinelli.
On assignment at Pure Luck Dairy, in Texas.
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged 4-H, cheese, Cheese for Dummies, cheesemaking, cooking, cooking schools, farm tours, goat cheese, goat dairies, goat milk, Goats, Laurel Miller, rabbits, ranches, yogurt | 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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