Part-time peach pusher

Photo love: Fruit Maven

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.

Home is where the farm is. Photo love: Jason Dewey Photography

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.

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 had 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.

The defendants at the SF Ferry Building farm shop. Photo love: Edible Excursions

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 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

Glenn and Tony Austin. Photo love: Austin Family Farm

Nepal, April, '15

Nepal, April, ’15

Backpackers are, as a species, short on money and space. We’re also often short on time, what with needing to make tight bus (see above), train, and janky plane connections, awakening still drunk at check-out time, or urgently needing a toilet (or bush, rock, or roadside) after eating dodgy street food.

Thus, things like showers, laundry, and basic hygiene often fall by the wayside. In my 15 years as a travel writer, I’ve oft found inspiration amongst fellow nomads- as well as come up with a few genius ideas myself- with regard to repurposing items or turning specific-use products into multitasking workhorses.

Presenting my top five travel hacks for dirtbags, tested and approved by yours truly. Happy holiday weekend!

Photo love: Elite Daily

Photo love: Elite Daily

1. Airline-size booze bottles for shampoo and body wash

While it’s shocking I didn’t come up with the idea myself, I recently discovered this hack after several dirtbag chef friends crashed at my apartment. I wasn’t remotely surprised to find a mini bottle of bourbon in my shower; what amazed me is that it was filled with castile soap (perhaps the most epic multitasking product on earth). Brilliant.

Photo love: Amateur Outdoorsman

Photo love: Amateur Outdoorsman

2. Carabiners to carry extra items on your pack

I draw the line at stuffing sweaty, smelly, muddy hiking boots in my pack. That’s why I like to clip ’em to my day pack for transit (because only fools entrust their pricey footwear to the random sketchballs who handle checked baggage). Does it piss off my seatmates, who are forced to huff the fumes (see Hack #5)? Of course. Tough shit. ‘Biners are also ideal for holding wet swimsuits, shopping bags, and other stuff.

Photo love: ToysR'Us

Photo love: ToysR’Us

3. Baby wipes

Not just any brand will do. It’s Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes or nothing (especially if you have, you know, sensitive skin…or a vagina). It was my tentmate on the Inca Trail who turned me on to this basic travel hack. Not only ideal for an improved version of the so-called Mexican (insert minority slur of your region’s choice) shower, they’re also aces at removing road grime, makeup, sunblock, deodorant marks from the tank top you’ve been wearing almost daily for a month, degreasing hair, and blotting up the gallon of cooking oil (?) that exploded all over your pack while it was in the hold of a clapped-out Cambodian bus. Wiping the backsplash from your ass after using a fetid squat toilet? Priceless. If you travel with nothing else, make it these puppies.

There is a point to this photo. Keep reading.

There is a point to this photo. Keep reading.

4. Sarong

For a few bucks, you have a lightweight, non-bulky souvenir/beach towel/bath towel/blanket for over-AC’ed buses/sunshade/pillow/sling/tourniquet/face mask for choking developing nation pollution/on-the-fly changing room/padding for the hematoma on your tailbone from an ill-fitting pack. Bonus: It will last forfuckingever.

Your average Bolivian toilet

Your average Bolivian toilet

5. Free sample sizes of perfume/cologne

Beyond handy for travel hook-ups (carry in your pocket!) and destinking clothes, stanky hostel rooms, befouled restrooms, sweaty shoes, midewy backpack interiors, your hair and bod after one too many days on the road, and to use in place of deodorant when you run out, mid-trek.

Catching water taxi, Cambodia; May 9, 2015

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.

This can be you. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Signage at Angkor Wat

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 and touristy. Photo love: Massageprices

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 of 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

Just add milk. Photo love: Crave Online


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.

True story.


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

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 on 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 Fall 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 creamery (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 Suzuki Maruti?

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. What fun!

These were our bus seats. No worries, we also had 500 lbs of rice on the floor which made for good sleeping.

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 Bellecote- 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

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 expat 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 chhurpi maker Mitra Kala Khanal, that, “In Nepal, cheese is life.”

Yak in the mist

Yak in the mist

Photo love: Gogetterjetsetter.com

Photo love: Gogetterjetsetter.com

It’s the eve of my departure for a six-week trip to Nepal and Laos (blatant self-promotional moment: look for my feature on Nepalese cheesemaking in the Fall issue of culture: the word on cheese). Since you’re reading this blog, presumably you’re aware of the fact that I’m extremely flight-phobic.

Given the recent spate of air disasters, paired with the excessive number of connecting flights and crap airlines I must endure in order to use frequent flyer miles for this trip, it’s understandable that I’ve been, how you say, shitting a giant brick over these impediments to adventure.

I mentioned to a friend the other day that due to Colorado’s recent- and inexplicable, given our freewheeling attitude toward pot– crackdown on Xanax prescriptions, I’ve had to go to extraordinary- if still legal- lengths so I can fly. In response, he sent me this clip from comedian John Mulaney, which made me realize that I’m not alone.

Thanks, Tony, for the solidarity. To all you other Xanax-fiending white knuckle flyers out there: I salute you.

Stay tuned for my updates from the road!

This Cessna almost crashed on take-off on my trip to the Ecuadorean Amazon. No exaggeration.

This Cessna almost crashed on take-off when I was in the Ecuadorean Amazon. No, I am not exaggerating.

Meet Alison Krauss; last year's name them was "music."

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.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

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

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’.






Photo love: Waldemar Horwat

Photo love: Waldemar Horwat

Ski towns love their festivals, from grassroots, culture-based celebrations to internationally renowned events. Telluride, in particular, has achieved global fame for its summer festival season, which includes the perennially sold-out dirty hippie jamboree Bluegrass, Jazz, Blues and Brews, and FILM weekends. There’s also wacked-out, homegrown stuff like the Mushroom Festival and the Nothing Festival (the token weekend thousands of tourists don’t descend, giving locals a chance to take back the town and ride around naked on their bikes, among other things).

Telluride winters, however, have historically been about the skiing. There’s certainly been no publicly promoted revelry involving defunct mines, fringe movements, and the torching of purpose-built installations– until now. Read on for my account of the winter solstice Mine Burn, and its spawn, the forthcoming, inaugural Telluride Fire Festival. Let’s burn one down, shall we?


Helmets are de rigeuer at Mine Burns; a flask helps eliminate any self-consciousness.

Helmets are de rigeuer at Mine Burns; so is a flask and a lack of self-consciousness.

Photo love: Meat & Cheese

Photo love: Meat & Cheese

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

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

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

This is me, with our first kid, Amber.

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

Photo love: Slow Food London

Photo love: Slow Food London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A seaside cemetery on the island of Chiloe, Chile

A seaside cemetery on the island of Chiloe, Chile

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

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

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

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

SLC; Photo love, Fine Art America

SLC; Photo love: Fine Art America

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

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


Cooper Lounge. Photo love: Ellen Jaskol

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

Ellen Jaskol - Loft Room with Dormer

Crawford Hotel loft room. Photo love: Ellen Jaskol

Crooked Stave's divine Surete Provision Saison

Crooked Stave’s divine Surete Provision Saison

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

Despite being a long-time 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 most skilled craft brewers has set me straight.

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

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

Hello, Cantillon Kriek.

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

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

Photo love: Murray’s Cheese

Photo love: Galdones Photography/Cochon 555

Photo love: Galdones Photography/Cochon 555

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

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


Man. Knife. Need fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bear getting dental surgery

A bear with a bit of a toothache.

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

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

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

Hitting the slopes in the early 50s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy's girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

Daddy’s girl with one of our Australian Shepherd pups

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

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

A young Doc Miller with one of our colts

A young Doc Miller in his backyard

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

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

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

Mom and Dad, 2012

Mom and Dad, 2012

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

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

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

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

I love you, Daddy. Get well soon.

Postscript, August 29, 2014:

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


Big Island, August, 2014

Colorado 187

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Photo love: Yellowstone Club

Photo love: Yellowstone Club

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

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Trip Outlook

Photo love: Trip Outlook

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

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

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



Harvesting Tupelo Honey in Florida Panhandle

Harvesting Tupelo honey in the Florida Panhandle

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

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

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



Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

Photo love: Loïc Romer, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

Photo love: Penn Waggener, Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo love: shutterstock.com

Photo love: shutterstock.com

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

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

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

Photo love: Tupperware School Fundraiser

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

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

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

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

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

Photo love: ppoggio2, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

Photo love: Adam Springer, Flickr

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

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

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

He blinked. “Um, I don’t have it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apres ski for Dummies

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

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

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

Currently in rotation at my house.

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

Photo love: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

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

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

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

Photo love: Betabrand

Photo love: Betabrand

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

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

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

Photo love: Jason Peacock, Flickr

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

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

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

IMG_2321 (2)

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

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

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


Photo love: redbubble.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Billy Currie

Photo love: Billy Currie

Breast wishes

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Jules' stand-in

This is Jules’ stand-in

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

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

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

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

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

View of Clovelly Beach on our "sccchtruuudel" stroll

View of Clovelly Beach on our “sccchtruuudel” stroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

Photo love: Mark Dragiewicz, Flickr

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

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

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




Bacon, bacon, bacon

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

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

Photo love: Blackberry Farm

CB signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

Camping on the beach after hiking the Kalalau Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



and yeah, okay, this:

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

2858663195_33daebbafa (2)

Photo love: Mike, Flickr

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

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


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

Photo love: matt, Flickr

Photo love: matt, Flickr

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

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

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

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

Photo love: Tc Morgan

Photo love: Tc Morgan

Raw foodists really have it tough.

Too soon?

Photo love: zombiesurvivalcourse.com

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

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

[Photo love: Langdon Cook]

Got geodick…er, duck?

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

Laguna Chaxa, Atacama

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

Photo love: Flickr user Stellas mom

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

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

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


serves 4


2 T. Champagne vinegar

salt, to taste

2 t. finely minced shallot

2 T. lemon juice

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

5 c. baby arugula or watercress

2 medium pink grapefruit or two medium blood oranges, segmented

one medium watermelon radish, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible

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

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

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

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

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

© The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2004

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

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

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

[Photo love: Kurt’s Shirts]

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

John Wayne Gacy had nothing on the Colonel

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

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

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

[Photo love: Flickr user tarotastic]


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