california nostalgia travels vegan vegetarian

In Tahoe, with Tofu and Ski Boots

12 March 2008

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[View from Squaw Valley, March 2008.]

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. – John Muir

Sunday afternoon I perched atop a mountain on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe; to my back, the lake shimmered bluely, and the sun blazed down upon the pine trees so much so that if I hadn’t seen the snow with my own eyes I’d have believed it was summer. In front of me, the Sierra Nevada sprawled up into the sky, and I took a deep breath: going to the mountains is like going home. How I love the sea, and the wide sand beaches of Northern California that stretch still and empty along the coast, but there is nothing like being in the high mountains. The air tastes different. Bird cries bounce off the rocks and echo into the trees in ways that hardly resemble fog-bound sea gulls wheeling and diving for fish. The sun is closer, and more intense. The wind is quieter.

As I clutched my ski poles and mentally prepared to hurtle down the steep slope back to the lift, and civilization (not to mention, hot chocolate), I thought, unexpectedly, if there is a god, he is good to have made all of this. Or, again in the words of John Muir, that great naturalist, lover of mountains, and founder of the Sierra Club: Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

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I forgot about Tahoe for awhile. When I was young, we went up nearly every winter (though we often stayed closer to Donner Lake) and sometimes in the summers, too, but since I graduated college and my vacations home were slim, there never seemed to be the time. In high school, I had basketball tournaments in South Lake Tahoe and learned anew how difficult it can be to run all-out at a higher altitude (I now have visions of doing long training runs up there, and not just for all the hills). The lakes in the summer were cold, but not impossible for swimming, and so clear you could see all the rocks at their bottoms, and sometimes fish. In winter, my brother and I would ski as long as there was daylight, occasionally in sun, but more often in snow. Once we took the tram to Sugar Bowl and then took the lift all the way to the top; the chairs disappeared into the swirling mist of a snowstorm and I knew I had to get myself down, somehow, even though I couldn’t even see the top of the mountain (I did, eventually, and probably with some cursing, as my brother sailed smoothly ahead of me).

This weekend was easier. The season is nearly over, and like I said, very warm. It almost felt like cheating to coast down with the sun in my face and only a light jacket; I didn’t even wear gloves, though I must admit I regretted it later after my hands got a bit cut up by my skiis. My last few runs of the day I was by myself, and fell into that slow, almost hypnotic side-to-side rhythm, quietly coasting down and taking deep yoga breaths to really concentrate (the key to my not falling is to concentrate and take it slow) until I reached the bottom. And, of course, it helps to have those gorgeous mountains surrounding you.

I wonder now how I could have stayed away so long.

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[Lake Tahoe, March 2008.]

All of this exercise meant working up a hefty appetite, and while I didn’t want to deal with a lot of cooking on my mini break, I did want to do a little. On the way out of town we stopped at Rainbow to pick up some good bread and cheese, a bottle of wine, some cauliflower. I’d made chocolate cake (in small loaves) because I always want chocolate when I’m outdoors, and I forgot to bring an avocado. For breakfasts we had toast with butter and bananas, and for skiing lunch, messy and delicious cheese and hummus sandwiches on walnut bread spread with just enough spicy brown mustard to give it a kick, and potato chips. We sat in the midday sun on the first day of Daylight Savings time — I’d also bought exorbitantly priced Cokes to wash it all down — and marveled at the weather, the snow, the mountains, the long afternoon still stretching ahead.

And when it finally ended, roasted cauliflower, tofu, and risotto made up a quick and easy dinner that was nourishing, too, even if two of its components came pre-made. I try very hard to make dishes that make good use of minimal ingredients, and mostly avoid packaged foods, but sometimes I think it’s OK to take a break. The tofu came from Wildwood (which also makes my favorite soy milk) and the risotto from Lundberg (and I swear, much as I’ve made my own risotto over the years, it never tastes as good as their version); this has also been a great camping meal, as it’s quite portable and quick to cook. To round it all out — and to add a vegetable component — a roasted cauliflower, tossed gently in olive oil and salt, and baked at 400 F for a half-hour.

Would John Muir have approved of our humble meal? I feel he was more of the bread, cheese, and meat type (and probably also porridge, since he originated in Scotland), or perhaps just beauty and bread, along with a healthy dose of water from a mountain stream, though surely he wouldn’t have refused dinner had he sat down at our table. After a day’s tramping along the ‘Range of Light,’ the body craves protein and fat, and a good measure of salt to round it all out. Though I wasn’t hiking this weekend, slushing down mountains came pretty close; and I’m never one to turn down baked tofu, anyhow.

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[Tofu and cauliflower for mountaineers, March 2008.]

From-scratch recipe to follow, soonish.

  • amanda 13 March 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I forget how beautiful Tahoe can be but after reading your post, I can almost picture it again. I went up there during the summer and while I love the lake during that time, it becomes a thing of great beauty and silence during winter. All serene and calm.Hopefully I get to venture back up there soon, although I won’t be trying to run up there. My poor lungs might break :)

  • John C Abell 12 March 2008 at 9:38 pm

    You are so hitting stride with essays like this. If only you could collect this one and others and perhaps have them in some kind of collection — portable, mind you — so I could enjoy and refer to them without being tied down to the computer. Oh, if only there was a way …

  • MNSunshine 12 March 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Just discovered your blog… and your delightful pictures.