baking california nostalgia travels

Mountains

21 February 2008

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My parents used to live in Colorado — Boulder, to be exact — and I like to think if some trick of fate had gone differently, I would have been born there, instead of along the Pacific. How different life could have been! I might be snowboarding down the Rockies this very second; I could be leading rafting expeditions every August; I might be working in a downtown office building on the tenth floor.

I’ve been to Colorado exactly once, to a ski resort in the summer. It was right after massive fires had blown through a nearby area, and when we took our requisite rafting trip the guide told us how the trees had been burned on a ridge we could see; it didn’t seem that far away. I remember the water level seemed low, and it reminded me of going to the American River when I was in high school, and how we’d slip out of the raft near the end of the day to swim behind it in the cool water, hanging on to a rope as we drifted downriver.

I went with a friend and her family who’d generously invited me along with them. It was the 4th of July weekend but it rained and we didn’t see any fireworks, which was just fine by me. Inside there were fireworks, because she and her sister had a big fight and hashed out a lot of things that probably needed to be hashed out (and now, they are the best of friends, which gives weight to the theory that arguing can be productive) and let go of. At the end of all that it was too late to go out to dinner so we ordered pizza and watched some concert on MTV, which seemed at odds with the place in which we were staying — a sort of upscale cabin with lots of dark wood and expensive art, in a fancy resort in the mountains.

All this is to say that I remember while they were arguing, her dad and I looked through the cupboards for something to cook for dinner — our first instinct, then, was to cook, to soothe and mend, to take care of. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about food and my relationship to it, and I’ve realized that it is an enduring undercurrent in my life. Inside most of my memories of travel or place or certain days is also the memory of what I ate there, or what I cooked. Like I wrote the other day, I remember having a broccoli epiphany at the Metropolitan Museum of Art more than I remember all the exhibits I saw the day I was there.

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[Cookies, before the oven, January 2008.]

So it follows that while the last few weeks have been busy ones, their details blurred into visitors/running/work/being behind in making phone calls/trying to work on some projects/too many loads of laundry/catch up catch up catch up quick, I remember what I ate, and what I cooked even when the rest falls away a bit.

For example, there was a dinner party two weeks ago tonight, and then a reprise of it a week later, when I made my usual hummus and bread appetizer, with olives; and then a leek soup, which was just 4 leeks thinly sliced and washed, and then sauteed in olive oil and white wine until they softened, after which I added some water and herbs; and then halibut with lemons and shiitake mushrooms; a sort of ratatouille bake with zucchini and bell peppers and tomato sauce; and a vegan chocolate cake with candles spelling out “Happy Birthray.” There was a Sunday night of quinoa soup and bread and cheese; there was a Friday night at Little Star (which, by the way, makes the best pizza, even when it’s ‘just’ cheese). There was a batch of chocolate chip cookies, a batch of oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies, and two batches of tea cookies, one flavored with Earl Grey and the other simply with green.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what I wore on Saturday afternoon, but I do know I made a spontaneous salad with Israeli couscous and feta (recipe soon) that was really, really good. (And that the ocean that morning was gorgeous — all foaming and glittery — though that’s not really relevant to this discussion.)

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[The Pacific in winter, January 2008.]

Up in the mountains that summer weekend, we ate well. I had probably the most delicious ‘vegetable plate’ I’ve ever eaten at a little out-of-the-way restaurant that had no vegetarian entrees listed on the menu; when we asked for something vegetarian the waiter said very seriously (see! I remember all this!) that he’d talk to the chef and come up with something. That ‘something’ was a perfectly plated pile of vegetables — portabello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, green beans — that were stacked so enticingly I would have eaten them even if I hadn’t already loved them (and even if I hadn’t been starving, which of course I was). One night we made blueberry tarts with fresh blueberries, searching out tins in the high cabinets of the kitchen. We did go for a brief hike in Aspen — a little chilly, and I wished I could have stayed much longer — and then had a very good lunch at a busy place in town.

See? Food is the thing that lingers, even after the snow has melted and the crowds have gone home — at least, for me, it does. I haven’t been to my mountains here in far too long, and I have lately been longing for a trip to see Yosemite in winter, the sharp peaks of the Sierras blanketed by snow, the Ahwahnee shrouded in mist, deer picking their way across the wide, deserted meadows. All that quiet in the middle of the woods.

If I do go, I’ll have to bring blueberry muffins and a pot of vegetarian chili. Maybe some cornbread, too. Extra thick socks, and assorted woollies. And I’ll plan to make simple, hearty meals of soups and stews to eat after a taking an ice hike up to Yosemite Falls. Chocolate cake, to carry along in my pocket, and chocolate pudding to eat afterward while warming up in front of a fire.

Yes, well. I’m clearly fascinated with the art of eating. At least the obsession is a delicious one.

  • justrun 24 February 2008 at 8:55 am

    The food is in my top five memories of every place I’ve ever been. I understand.

  • Marlene Dotterer 22 February 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Oh, me too! Mountains and food!

    I love mountains. We just got back from Half Moon Bay (and the ocean looked exactly like your picture) and while we were there, we had a marvelous hike in Butano State Park. The trail was steeper than I was used to, but worth every step. I’m always so happy when I’m walking in the forest. It happens without even trying.

    My memories are also dependent on food. With an old(er) person’s sluggish memory, the best way for me to remember where I went or what I did, is to think about what I ate. It works nearly every time!