Tag Archive | friends and neighbors

Fine Dining for a Good Cause

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An amuse-bouche started the meal…

We don’t have a lot of fine dining options around here, not like you find in a city. There are some good neighborhood restaurants, but they don’t change their menus for years at a time, and you can’t count on wanting the special. We fill this lack of gustatory variety by eating excellent and often exotic meals at each others’ houses, and we are a bunch of gourmet cooks.

Once in a blue moon, or more rarely really, because we have a couple of blue moons a year, an opportunity comes along for an extraordinary treat. Last weekend about 40 people attended a benefit for the Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy, and enjoyed a six-course meal created by Swiss-trained chef Lucas Wentzel. It was a 5 star meal. A lot of us from Crawford went because Lucas is the son of our dear friends Ruth and Jeff, and his sister Emily runs the school with her husband Phil. So it was the best of both family dining and haute cuisine!

Amuse-bouche translates more or less literally from the French as “Fun for your mouth!” and is an intensely flavored bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and offered free to each guest. Lucas chose to delight our taste buds with Rosé Valentina (from the menu): “Béchamel & Black Forest Ham in homemade pasta served over a creamy tomato sauce, drizzled with a succulent sage butter. A popular dish from the Italian part of Switzerland, Chef Lucas learned from Chef Valentina herself. Available as a vegetarian option with spinach in place of the ham.”

This dish, I’ll tell you straight off, was my favorite of the night, and they were all delicious. Lucas went all-out with edible flowers for the meal, topping this teaser with a sprig of basil flowers, and adding several other blossoms to the remaining dishes.

VCEP1123The second course featured a creamy roasted carrot soup seasoned with ginger. Now I know the secret to the most full-flavored carrot soup is to roast the carrots first.

FQTQ0910This was followed by a ravioli filled with with sun dried tomato, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese in a pesto cream sauce. I am not a goat cheese fan. I try now and again to taste it, because my damn friends all love it, and it keeps showing up. But invariably, a musty goat smell comes out my armpits within ten minutes of eating it and I can’t stand to be around myself. So I typically avoid it. However, that night, I’d have had to miss a course, so I did try it, and it was so mild I barely noticed eating it, and there were, luckily for my neighbors, no after effects.

DUVK5980A kiwi-lime sorbet came before the main course, two tiny delicious scoops of tart sweetness with a slight bitter crunch from the kiwi seeds, which was a perfect palate cleanser.

TCCV6472The main course featured seared salmon with a creamy Béarnaise sauce (or stuffed roasted red pepper for vegetarians), parmesan encrusted asparagus, and a simple jasmine rice topped with another edible orchid blossom which tasted startlingly like watermelon. HGWE1291

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PELA Director Dr. Emily Wassell discussing the school with fine diners.

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Chef Lucas preps dessert plates with students, while head teacher Phil Wassell washes dishes.

GYBI0584 - Version 2For dessert, an exquisite chocolate mousse with a hint of orange, drizzled with a chocolate merlot sauce from local winery Azura Cellars, came atop a plate of sweet white sauce with a pansy flower and strawberry garnish. None of us could eat another bite, and we drove home through a steady rain feeling deliriously satiated.

Considering the quality of the food, the value of supporting this wonderful educational endeavor, and the company, the meal was a great deal. The pastas were homemade, pesto, eggs, goat cheese, and other ingredients came from local farms, and even the chocolate for the mousse came from a Colorado family starting an organic cacao farm in Costa Rica. Students from PELA helped chef Lucas prepare the meal, and their siblings, friends and parents served, bussed, and cleaned up. All this community action occurred at Edesia Community Kitchen in Paonia, a certified commercial kitchen available for events, preparation of value added agricultural products, and weekend wood-fired pizza. PELA’s chef-Lucas dinner is just one more reason I’m so grateful for where I live.

 

Snowed In and Loving It

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Sunrise this lengthening-day morning brought a beautiful view full of new snow. Last night as it still fell, Tom our UPS man called to say he’d left a package at the top of the driveway. I tried to push the Honda through but only made it about fifteen feet before backing up to my dry parking spot and waiting til morning. Once the sun was up and the air had warmed a bit, I bundled my snot-nosed coughing self up warmly and strapped on snowshoes to go get the package. I knew what it was, and it was essential.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

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Why doesn’t the grocery store sell kitten chow in the big bags? I can get it so much cheaper in a 14-pound bag from Amazon, and usually it’s delivered right to the door. If Tom had only come a few hours sooner he could have made it down the driveway! As it happened, I didn’t want him to even try. Christmas week and he was already hours late. Driving must have been harrowing for him all day. The cat food Deborah had donated to tide us over must be far more tasty than the kitten chow; the kittens ate two cups in one day between them, twice as much as usual, and were mewling for more. I had to get them back on track, and I didn’t want any more puking.

So I headed up the driveway. The snow was just deep enough to make it slow with boots alone and tedious with snowshoes, so I kicked those off just beyond the first gate. Just past the skunk culvert where the fence begins I considered turning back, just waiting awhile, in case Cynthia decided to make tracks with her Subaru or Fred came to plow. But I continued: it was so beautiful out, the kittens needed their proper food, and I knew this would be the dogs’ only chance today for a walk; also, I don’t like to presume when or if my kindest of neighbors will come with his tractor and plow.

Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

                                                    Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

Fred and Mary's cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

Fred and Mary’s cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

I love being snowed in. There’s a peace that doesn’t come any other time. Silent snow, secret snow. True solitude. I am cocooned in the warmth of my house with all the potential of the day ahead. My creative juices can flow, wander from one project to another, without external distraction. No one will come. Keeping essential paths shoveled takes time and energy, but gets me outside occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the place I have chosen to live. Shovel slowly, stop often, breathe deeply and look around. I become more grounded in this place when I can’t get out.

Away from here for a month I was a mess. I didn’t recognize myself, in constant fight, flight, or freeze. I realized sometime before I headed home that this journey was a crucial bardo: I had either to recommit whole-heartedly to the challenging rural life I have chosen, or I had to come up with a big change of plan. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the two weeks I’ve been home, the fear and anxiety have receded, leaving a calm gratitude in their place.

In that moment this morning when I considered turning back, I realized there was no hurry. Enjoy. This is the life I chose, these the burdens and the pleasures. The physical exertions that make living here hard seem nothing now compared to the mental anguish I suffer in or near a city. The hike up the driveway and back took almost an hour, pausing now and then to enjoy the view, sunlight slanting through white clouds southeast, a dark shelf of weather in the western sky, Grand Mesa sparkling to the north, unbroken white fields; juniper boughs heavy with puffs of snow, slipping off in shimmering showers, sometimes saddling Stellar with white as he runs beneath the trees. Nine-year-old Raven bouncing through the snow like a puppy, racing, scooting, kicking up powder. I carried the 14-pound bag of kitten chow in a tote over my shoulder, switching shoulders and pole hand often. Just as I reached the door and dropped the snowshoes, the tote bag, the pole, I heard the tell-tale putt-putt of Fred’s tractor in the distance.

I’ll pretend I’m still snowed in. I’ll sit by the woodstove and tend the small fire and read, write, sip hot tea. I’ll wallow in the gratitude I feel for the comfort and security of a community that supports me, through neighborly aide (of so many sorts) and convivial ritual, with friendship and love, in this spectacular place we have all chosen.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn't catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I'd have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn’t catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I’d have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Many of our winter rituals could happen anywhere, I suppose. Only here under wide-open skies could the season’s turning be marked with a fire like this one. We all stood looking up and marveled during those magical moments when sparks were shooting up through down-coming snowflakes. Up, down, hot, cold, light, dark. Altogether, life.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the snow-filled stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

 

My Fridge Runneth Over

My fridge runneth over, and I have pine mouth. What the fuck is pine mouth? It’s been the kind of day that makes me almost so happy I could cry, except for the fact that everything I put in my mouth tastes bitter.

Several neighbors are out of town and I’m watching their plants and pets. That always makes me feel like I belong. I’m sitting down to asparagus soup I made last spring from wild asparagus picked by one of them, and romaine salad from my own raised beds. I just returned from tending two neighbors’ houses, picking up beet greens and dropping off kefir at another’s, and borrowing a book and sharing a cocktail with a fourth. One young friend brought me wild mushrooms from the mountains the other day, and another let my dogs out the past two days during some nine-hour work days away from home. We are all here for each other.

So my refrigerator is full of fresh-picked beet greens and chard, cucumbers, romaine, zucchini from the patio pot, asparagus soup, eggs from yet another nearby friend’s free-range hens, kefir I’ve kept going for almost two years from grains given by a friend in the next town north; purple bush beans, poppies, dahlias, zinnias, morning glories, scarlet runner beans, and sunflowers started from seed fill the gardens, and a few peaches ripen on the tree. Local happy pork waits in the freezer. Kittens romp in the living room and happy, healthy dogs play in the yard.

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Romp in the yard and walk to the canyon.

Romp in the yard and walk to the canyon.

Two beautiful peaches are almost ripe on the tree a couple of days ago, and several more are green and growing.

Two beautiful peaches are almost ripe on the tree a couple of days ago, and several more are green and growing.

I turned away for a few minutes, and when I looked back a little shitmunk was eating one.

I turned away for a few minutes, and when I looked back a little shitmunk was eating one.

Grasshoppers have been at plague-like proportions since mid-summer, but I think the Nolo bait is finally knocking them down.

Grasshoppers have been at plague-like proportions since mid-summer, but I think the Nolo bait is finally knocking them down.

I’ve got great work this week filming a yoga guru from Brazil who’s helped heal my body over the past eight years. And I live in a valley with clean, fresh air, clear wild water, extraordinary views, and the greatest variety of local, organic food a person could hope to eat. This morning a wild turkey led her pullets down the driveway; this afternoon returning from work a two-truck traffic jam slowed me on a sharp curve on the last hill home: the first big pickup pulled wide into the downhill lane, the second slowed steeply, and I braked to see a young redtail flapping to the edge of the cliff with a squirrel. One of this year’s fledglings from the nest at the confluence of canyons. At dusk a flock of nighthawks flew overhead. August.

My heart wells up on days like this, I am so full of gratitude for how and where I live. I can’t imagine wanting anything more.

Except world peace, an end to hunger and abuse of power, reversal of climate change, respect by everyone for all life, and protection for the wild. I’ve read a lot of non-fiction lately (what’s happening to me?!) including The Sixth Extinction, and Death in the Marsh, both scientific accounts of human-caused dire circumstances facing life on earth. Only denial can help me now.

And on top of all that, I’ve got pine mouth. It’s a small but annoying thing. I first encountered it five or six years ago when all of a sudden, everything I ate or drank tasted bitter. It worried me intensely for a couple of days until I searched online, and kept running across references to people with a similar complaint who had recently eaten pine nuts, the commercial kind grown in China. I figured that had to be the problem, because I had eaten grocery store pine nuts a day or two before this unfortunate gustatory distress. That time, it lasted well over three weeks, and was really awful.

This time, it hasn’t been quite so bad, and after six days is already diminished. Recently I ran across a reference to the condition which called it “pine mouth.” I betrayed my intuition at the store last week, when I picked a pack of pine nuts off the strip and purchased them. In that moment when I pulled the package from the hanging plastic, I thought, or maybe felt, a warning: pine mouth. Should I drop that bag and pick another? They all looked the same. It’s often hard for me to discern the difference between intuition and neurosis, so I laughed at myself and dropped the bag in the cart. I made a special dish for another couple of friends who needed dinner, and ate a bowlful myself.

The next day I tasted the first twinge of bitter in some kefir, and some trail mix. Since then it’s been everything. Granola, chili, salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, M&Ms, vanilla ice cream, asparagus soup… all of it bitter. It’s bearable. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket. I’m still the luckiest girl alive. As the yoga guru says, “If you know what it is, it’s just pain.”

I know what it is, and it’s just bitter. Of course, I don’t really know what it is, or why it happens. Does anyone? But it will go away. And in context of all the complex sweetness in my life, any day that pine mouth is the worst I have to contend with I am grateful.