Saturday, July 25, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We just got back from a trip to Utah, with the focal point the Shakespearean festival in Cedar City, Utah. Cedar City is in southwestern Utah, not far from Bryce and Zion. We have been there several times during the years. It's fun to hike around and see the red rocks in the daytime, and see an excellent play at night. One of our very favorite places.

It was HOT! July is not the best time of year to go, but that's when the plays are shown. The roads and national and state parks were filled with tourists, many from Europe. I heard German, French, Italian, Spanish (from Spain), Russian, and Japanese spoken. I visited with a very nice woman from Holland (Dutch sounds kinda like German but not quite, so I asked her where she was from), there with her family at Goblin Valley State Park in middle Utah.

In a Hanksville, Utah, restaurant, a waitress said more than 70% of their customers were from Europe. And at Ruby's Inn outside Bryce, where the line of customers for their excellent dining room was half a block long as we were leaving, the cashier said that their business was down this year. We were lucky at Ruby's Inn, by eating "unfashionably early" at 6:00 p.m.; she said the Europeans tend to eat later. Even American tourists often show up after the sun goes down and they have taken the last possible shot of the gorgeous rocks.

We finagled our brief stay at the Grand Canyon to avoid the worst of the crowds. We came in at Desert View in the early evening, and I turned into the first view point. Not too crowded at that time of day. There was a bagpiper on an overlook, in a kilt, playing a serenade to the canyon. He was not associated with the park, just some guy. I can just imagine him planning this tribute; he played excellently, and got a warm round of applause by the approximately 30 people listening. Then we sat on a little hill and watched the sun go down over the buttes with people from many nations.

We drove in the dark to our motel just south of the main entrance. We rousted ourselves out of bed before 7:00 a.m. and shot out to the rim and the overlooks. Hardly anybody there at all. The air was cool. The canyon was its phenomenally-gorgeous self. The ravens were having fun. We stopped at four overlooks and took pictures, including one of a 10-foot-tall bloom spike on a century plant, with a swallowtail butterfly getting its breakfast. We left the rim by 10:00 a.m. to see bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into the park. Whew! Just in time. We ate breakfast, checked out, and started driving north and east.

On the way back we took Road 12 from just south of Panguitch, across some of the most amazing scenery in the world. You come over the edge of a high plateau, into a wonderland of rocks and cliffs. There are excellent hiking trails along the road, but I'm not up to that now, so we drove on. Between Escalante and Boulder, Road 12 goes up and over the Hogsback, with 500 foot cliffs on one side (no guardrails), and at the narrowest point, on both sides. I'll talk more about Boulder later. Between Boulder and Capitol Reef National Park, we drove over the Aquarius Plateau, covered in aspen and conifers, with lovely grassy meadows. We saw a marmot by the road. It's the highest land around. From the top you get a 360 degree view of red rock areas, Bryce and Zion from the back, Arches, etc.

Then Capitol Reef for half a day, and Arches for half a day, and a miserable stop-and-go trip from Eisenhower Tunnel to Denver on I-70. Note to self: DO NOT plan a trip to come into Denver on I-70 on Sunday afternoon! What's more, our car was losing first gear by that time. But we got home, much later on Sunday than we expected, but safe and sound.

Now for the food part. At Cedar City we had kitchen facilities. I went to the store to try to buy sausage. Every package I picked up had high-fructose corn sweetener and MSG in it. Finally I found a brand that only had some sugar. Gasp! It was that way with everything. We have our local sources of excellent quality food here at home; on the road we were pretty much reduced to the Standard American Diet (also termed SAD). And sad it was. It was pretty shocking how out of touch we had become.

We ate at some decent restaurants, and some mediocre restaurants. Nothing really awful, but DH was gobbling Tums after each meal. We both put on some weight. I took some high-quality gluten-free wraps which lasted us for a while, and most of our lunches were cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, and these wraps. After they were gone, it was pretty slim pickings.

But in the midst of this desolation, we happened upon paradise at Boulder, Utah. A little town of about 180 population, with one truly fine lodge and restaurant. It was early evening, so we booked a room (lucky to do this without a reservation) at Boulder Mountain Lodge. Gorgeous large room, well appointed, in a peaceful and beautiful area. You could see the cliffs of the Hogsback road across the road. They had an 11-acre bird sanctuary next to our building. There were flower gardens everywhere.

If you're interested, look them up on the internet: Boulder Mountain Lodge. Associated with the lodge was a restaurant, the Hells Backbone Grill. Again, since we were eating early, we managed to slip in without a reservation. They seated us on the deck, next to the flower gardens, with hummingbirds coming to a feeder, and plied us with endless glasses of iced green tea.

I realized I had found a "local-food" restaurant. They got their meats from local ranchers, grass-fed. They got their vegetables mostly from their own gardens, and their herbs and edible flowers from the very beds we were sitting next to. Every dish was trimmed with fresh herbs and edible flowers. They change their menu every week as the available vegetables and fruits change.

The whole place just breathed love and caring. The food was fabulous. Not elaborate, just beautifully cooked from fresh ingredients, and immensely satisfying. Just to whet your appetite: Dessert was a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, topped with warm fudge-pinon nut sauce, and then trimmed with plenty of freshly-whipped real cream.

One of the owners came around talking to the customers, and stopped at our table. I told her I really appreciated what she was doing here, and we had a very nice talk about local food--both what she was doing and what I was doing in Loveland. She mentioned the "Marco Polo" effect, in that she bought coffee, tea, and chocolate that weren't produced in Utah, and didn't feel bad about it.

The restaurant has done a great job of integrating itself into the community which is mainly Mormon ranch families, on the basis of mutual respect and caring. Local sons and daughters work in the restaurant. They have wine tastings for the non-Mormon staff, and wine sniffings for the Mormon staff. They were able to get a liquor license for wine and beer, selling Utah beer and wine from Oregon and Washington state to their customers, many from Europe, who consider a meal without wine or beer seriously lacking.

I learned more about the restaurant from reading their book: With a Measure of Grace, a truly lovely book, out of print but available used. In addition to profiles of the owners and staff, and their experiences, it includes many yummy reasonal recipes that they serve at the restaurant. It is very inspiring to a local-food enthusiast to find other people doing the same thing, in their localities, and with such a degree of success.

So I'm relaxed, recharged, finally caught up with the threads of my life at home, and newly inspired by Blake Spalding and her friends at Hells Backbone Grill. And we both have a greater appreciation for how far we've come from SAD, and for our home-cooked, fresh, locally grown foods.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Green Leaves of Summer

What a treat to be able to eat the fresh greens of summer. The field lettuce has come in, in a wide range of colors and shapes. It tastes so good after a winter and spring mostly on stored foods. And the "braising greens" are also ready to go.

We all know what to do with lettuce, but I had to hunt for a few new recipes for Greens. Braising greens are more robust than salad greens, and need some cooking to be at their best. Lettuce is not generally included; although you can cook lettuce, I've never had the heart to do so.

Braising greens can include endive, escarole, radicchio, bok choy, mizuna, chard in green, red, or rainbow colors, larger spinach, kale in their variety, collards, turnip greens, beet greens, and more. Even radish greens, if very fresh, can also be in the mix.

Kale is the most robust of them, and if your kale leaves are fairly good sized, slice them thin so that they cook along with the others. If you are using chard in a quick-cooking greens recipe, cut the ribs out and slice them thin, then chop the leaves. That'll give the ribs a chance to catch up on getting tender.

Chock-full of vitamins and minerals, greens are a great addition to your family table.

Braised Greens with Butter and Ginger

1 lb whatever braising greens you have on hand
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons tamari
1 finely sliced garlic scape (curly flowering top) or one
garlic clove minced
1 tablespoon peeled minced ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Bring a kettle of water to boil, meanwhile cutting up your washed greens in 1" lengths. Drop greens into boiling water, cook for about three minutes. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, have the butter melted with tamari, garlic, and ginger. Don't let it cook down. Drain the greens, then put in the skillet with the seasonings. Cook and stir a few minutes until mixed. Stir in
the chopped cilantro and serve. Unless your kids are really allergic to greens, they should like this one.

Summer greens with tomato and spring onion

1 lb washed and chopped greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sized spring onion (small bulb with its greens) sliced (or you may use about 4 scallions sliced)
3 slices dried lemon (optional)
3/4 cup stewed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Thai-style curry paste, or more to taste
salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil and simmer onion till soft. Stir in the washed drained greens, and cook over medium heat until they start to soften and braise. Tear up and add the lemon slices if you have them. Stir in the stewed tomatoes and the curry paste. Reduce heat, put a lid on, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes until greens are tender.

Spiced White Beans

1 cup small white beans, such as navy or Great Northern, soaked overnight
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
1 teaspoon mild to medium chili powder (to your taste)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Drain the beans, then add fresh water and cook for 2 hours or until tender. (You should always soak and cook beans well to avoid digestive upsets.) When beans are done, drain and reserve most of the remaining liquid. Add the curry powder, the cumin and chili powder, salt and pepper to taste, and the olive oil. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes to get the flavors to meld. If they get dry, add a little of the reserved liquid.

This makes a nice side dish. For a double treat, serve with one of the above greens recipes. For a vegetarian, that's a meal. For meat-eaters, accompany with freshly-cooked sausage or on-hand cooked chicken pieces.

And enjoy the green leaves of summer!

PS: FINALLY I put labels on the Recipes posts, so you can find them more easily.