Decadence: Food and Wine

As always, posted a bit late. But travel and spotty internet will do that. Here’s my post from Food and Wine last week! News on India adventures to come soon. xx

I consumed more calories this past weekend than my body knew was possible. And I’m pretty happy about it. My graduation present from my parents was an excursion to the Food and Wine festival in Aspen Colorado. Prior to this weekend I decided that I would check my privilege later so as to fully enjoy the gluttony. So, I hope you can to as I recount my excessive indulgences. I promise, I won’t be indulging like this for many months (try years) to come.

20140620_171325000_iOSI met my parents in the Denver airport and we drove through the winding Colorado Mountains to my mom’s brother’s home in Basalt. The cast of characters for the weekend was me and my rents (aka the EmerDeusens), my mom’s sister Sarah and her husband John (aka the Pestersons) my mom’s brother Todd and his wife Gabrielle and their kids Jonce and Jake (aka the Colorado Emersons) and my mom’s cousin Tom and his wife Jean. It’s been a few years since this whole crew has been together, and I realized where my faith in relationships picking up where they left off comes from. Family is family, and we’ll always be a ridiculous bunch whenever we get together. On day two the bathroom handle stopped working, my mom got locked in, Sarah and John tried using kitchen utensils to get the lock to budge, my dad climbed through the window, and I was laughing too hard to be any more useful than making her lunch. Needless to say, she did get out after we took the door off its hinges. More shocking to me than that, though, is apparently I’m not the only one who’s been growing up. My not-so-little cousins now tower over me as a junior in high school and a junior in college. Although I didn’t get to spend much time with them this week (apparently the desire to go hiking and stay busy didn’t get in to everyone’s genes) it was fun to get to know them each a bit better and discover that dry humor IS indeed a universally Emerson trait.
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We rented a house close to the Colorado Emersons, overlooking Mt. Sopris. It was a breathtaking view. Literally…the altitude definitely got to all of us. We spent the first couple of days getting acclimated. I introduced my mom and aunt to yoga, went on some family hikes, and had endless scrumptious dinners. The first night Uncle John managed to serve us up right around 9:30 (a time reasonably common in our family although not anticipated by all) which he never managed to live down.

Friday began the Food and Wine classic. Envision the Food Network shows live with the variety of people NYC has to offer, all relocated in to a ski-town valley. Each day we had three classes and two grand tastings. The grand tastings were indeed, very grand. There were three large tents set up in a U formation with open green space in the middle. We were greeted each time we entered the grand tasting by a new chef and one of their signature creations to try. By far my favorite was Chef Christopher Kostow’s soft serve ice cream made from Buffalo Milk and drizzled with Olive Oil and sprinkled with salt. I would have been content just eating that all weekend! But then you move to that open green area and you discover that it is lined with distilleries ready to be at your service. Patron let you bike to blend your cocktail! Straight ahead was the tent dedicated to Spain, but the line for Paella was always too long and there was no Sangria, so I didn’t spend too much time in there. Then the long pavilion tents were lined with different food and drink vendors and the center was all wine. You got a clean wine glass when you walked in and just started tasting. I discovered a few fun vineyards at an affordable price (thanks Food and Wine for validating our college budget choice of Cupcake Wine) and learned about some remarkable grapes that I can only dream of. The food was fabulous too! It was a vegetarian’s nightmare – although FieldRoast sausages, Earth Balance, and Chobani were holding their own – but luckily there were plenty of vendors that fit my “happy meat” requirements. Without a doubt the best food was the fresh raw oysters from Cape Cod (shh don’t ask me how they were fresh) which tasted like sea water in the best possible way.

20140620_161019873_iOSThen the classes. I started Friday with a Sparkling Wine & Cheese pairing lesson. We were poured 6 glasses of champagne and given a plate of 8 cheeses. The expert then talked us through trying different ones together and how to pay attention to our pallet. I learned that you should always taste the wine before trying the cheese, that one of my favorite cheeses of all time (Mt. Tam from Cow Girl Creamery) goes well with almost all bubbles, and that stinky cheese can sometimes not be palatable. The chef is truly a cheese expert and I couldn’t help myself but to buy her Mac and Cheese book and get it signed. Later on in the grand tasting tent we ran in to each other looking for Vermont Creamery (who supplied my new favorite cheese) and she remembered my name from the book signing! It made me happy.

Before my second class, Sarah and I took a detour in to the Aspen art museum. There Ernesto Neto had an exhibit on “Gratitude” which was an interactive meditative exhibit. We laid down, face up, on human shaped colorful mattresses. Semi-precious stones and herbs were counterbalanced and then lowered on to us, weighting our limbs into the mattress and covering our eyes. I could have slept there all afternoon, even if I hadn’t been drinking wine all morning! Our next class was on “What not to Pair” from Marnie Old. She was absolutely brilliant. Marnie taught us that pairing red wine with red meat and white with fish is far from what it’s all about. The pairing is in the flavors. She gave us 6 wines, 5 flavors to appeal to different taste buds: salt, butter, honey, hot sauce, and lemon, and 6 other sauces/ condiments. Her goal was to make us cringe. We did. There were so many combinations of flavor and wine that absolutely did not go: making a wine that I loved straight taste absolutely rancid! But then she would explain how all the reactions worked and finally picking out wine became less daunting.

20140621_160256045_iOSAnother favorite class was “Global Vegetarian” with Carla. This woman had spunk. I’d never seen any of her food network shows, but she started the class by getting us all to dance with her. To give you a sense of how Carla cooks, she has re-named salt compliments “because without it you ain’t getting any compliments.” In 45 minutes she showed us how to make 3 different vegetarian dishes from around the world. She took my fear out of making Palak Paneer! She messed up, and showed us how to fix it, and encouraged that there’s “flavor in the brown” so burning things a little isn’t the end of the world. It certainly made me miss cooking and I haven’t even left yet!

By Sunday I was a little wined and dined out, so instead of a class in the morning I watched the weekend’s live cook off. Two Food Network chefs (all these people probably would have meant more to me if I watched TV) were given 25 minutes, a surprise su-chef, and three main ingredients. It was word cup themed, so they had to create something Brazil inspired. Tyler Florence (team USA) competed against Chris Stone (team Australia). Chris Stone’s surprise companion was his pregnant wife, which probably helped tip the audience’s votes towards him. Their ingredients: salt cod, a whole salmon, and a fresh coconut. Not an easy feat to begin with, but then over the course of the cooking period three more ingredients were added in: duck eggs, hot peppers, and squid ink. Because why not. Like on the cooking shows both chefs were pure comedians and managed to whip up something decadent. I only wish we as the judges got to taste the food too!

A final great addition to the weekend was getting to see one of my best friends from Mountain School! Matt was another one of those Exeter folk I saw frequently through high school, though we hadn’t seen each other much at all since college started. Matt hadn’t been able to make it out for the reunion since he’s leading climbing trips in Colorado, but he did get the weekend off and came to meet me in Aspen. He joined my family Saturday evening for dinner and shenanagins before braving a 4am climb. We met back up Sunday afternoon for an easy hike along Hunter Creek. A storm felt like it was billowing in, but as trustworthy as Colorado weather is it blew past only half an hour in to our hike and cleared up beautifully to overlook the whole town of Aspen. Family. Food. Wine. Friends. I couldn’t have asked for more. All in all the weekend was a perfect way to say “See you later, USA!”

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