Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ski Food.

I’ve made a recent rather sad discovery about traveling. When I was younger I used travel and vacation-time as an excuse to eat every bad food on the planet from burgers to nachos to mile-high sundaes. Plying myself with everything I had denied myself back home, and washing it down with an armada of boat drinks. But now, I find I just can’t do it. Not even a little bit. My whole body rebels. It's awful.

I tried to do it in Breckenridge on our trip there last month – loading up on burgers, chili, mashed potatoes. Carbing it up for the snowboard lesson the next day. Hey, doesn’t matter right? You’ll burn off all those calories anyway. But when I tried it, my body freaked out. When into rebellion. Instant carb coma. It was yelling at me things like, "Go a day without fruit? A day without some sort of vegetable? All right - just TRY it, and see what happens. And TRUST me, it won't be pretty."

I carbed it up and tried to tell myself that trail mix with chocolate chips and yogurt covered pretzels mixed in was healthy. And an hour before my snowboard lesson, I got the jitters. The sugar shakes. And it wasn’t just from nerves. My body was going into veggie withdrawal. Lack of fruit convulsions. Or maybe it was veggie withdrawal mixed with altitude sickness. In any case I didn’t feel better until I had some miso with seaweed and sushi that night. Real food with omega 3’s and vitamins. Now instead of going whole hog (sometimes LITERALLY) on vacation, I’m going to have to eat like I do at home. Search out healthy but tasty things while at the same time treating myself ONLY every once in awhile. This REALLY sucks.

Where before I'd use vacation as an excuse to leap from the diet without looking back, particularly in hotspots like Vegas where food and boat drinks are king, now the travel journey has changed. No longer will I have to workout extra because I jumped headlong into a vacation mode - the high-fat abyss. Now I'll have to change the paradigm. Look at why I love to travel so much from a whole different angle. This will be difficult for someone who plans her entire trip around the cuisine of the region she's traveling to. Damn. And pigging out was so much fun too.

Before reaching this epiphany, I *did* do some pigging out at the Breckenridge Brewery. Even though their burger sent me into a high-carb-coma and my guts felt like they were being wrenched out of my body, it wasn't because the food was bad. On the contrary, the burger was OUTSTANDING. Especially when washed down with a yummy Vanilla Porter. I just paid the price afterward.

Oddly enough, I did find some incredibly tasty, healthy options in Breckenridge. Maybe these restaurants are meant for those few non-skiers out there who don't need 5,000-calorie pancake suppers to fuel their trips down the mountain? Nonetheless, they were pretty damn tasty.

That miso and sushi I talked about was wolfed down at Mountain Flying Fish, an unassuming little place upstairs on Main Street near Peak 9. They promote themselves as the "Highest Altitude Sushi Bar in the World!" Not sure about that, but I wolfed down the stuff because I can't remember when I've had better sushi. It was superb. The yellowtail belly nigiri was sublime, the grilled yellowtail cheek was a revelation of crunchy skin and sweet, tender flesh. And yes, it was a yellowtail kind of night. The service was friendly, the miso was tasty, and all that sushi after a carb coma was very very welcome. Afterward we kept talking about how good it was and couldn't stop. In fact, it was SO good we went back to eat two nights later, the snow pounding down all around us - the first heavy snowstorm of our trip. Not sure if it was because we were eating sushi during a snowstorm, which is strange, or if it tasted so yummy after all the carbs, or what. All I know is that it tasted like the freshest, bestest sushi we'd ever had.

After the wonderfullness of the sushi, I was determined the next day to find myself something healthy for lunch. Hubby went skiiing, but I had given up snowboarding by then (and yes, there is definitely a forthcoming travel story there). The snow was still falling heavily as I ventured forth in my ski jacket and big boots. Crunching my way along Main Street, then down the narrow side streets, just wandering and exploring. Taking pictures of the quaint Christmas village that is Breckenridge, and marveling at how rugged and old all the houses looked. Like something out of and old western movie. Happened upon this little house on a corner. The sign said, "Amazing Grace" and so I went in. That's what you do in my world anyway. You see amazing grace you check it out.

Inside I found an adorable little three-room house full of mismatched furniture, not unlike the restaurant slash houses I used to frequent during my college days in The Fan (Richmond, VA). A shiny silver woodstove was roaring in one corner, the glass-encased counter near the kitchen was full of baked goods, and the entire place seemed to invite you in to take off your coat and stay a spell. I did, ordering their spicy tofu salad rapidly, like a man in the desert. I needed veggies! I was starving for sustenance and vitamins. That sushi the night before had only wakened the beast. Now the beast was hungry for greens.

The salad didn't disappoint - a HUGE portion of greens, carrots, peppers, and other yummy vegetables with a spicy tofu salad atop it. The spicy tofu had the consistency of something like tuna salad. It had a great kick of heat which paired nicely with the great crunch of the greens. I swear as I ate more of the stuff I felt my body sighing with relief. Which made me stay a longer while, open my laptop, do some writing, and sip a chai while watching the owner stoke the fire. Watching the snow fall. Listening as the mother and daughter in the corner (other non-skiers?) laughed over a huge book called, "What Does Your Birthday Mean?" It was a perfect afternoon, so perfect I decided to pack up a little of it to take with me. Bought two huge lemon raspberry ginger scones to drink with coffee the following morning. My "once in awhile" treat. They were out of this world good.

So what's the travel story here? Just a little ditty about how a middle age woman had a not-so-pleasant food epiphany while on vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado. How she came to realize that maybe food doesn't have to be the epicenter of the entire trip. Maybe by having to put a little more effort into finding tasty, healthy food (while at the same time leaving room for some delicious banned items) she can have an even more delightful culinary adventure. Weirder things have happened...

Click Here to Read More..


So I went on vacation with Hubby to Colorado last week, and ever since, I've been asking myself where the story is. Where is the story here? What strikes me the most?

Hubby and I stayed in Breckenridge, a quaint little ski town way up in the mountains west of Denver. Don't get me started about Denver. I've never visited, and not sure I'd ever want to go on first glance. Nice airport, but the city itself is so FLAT. From the highway at least, Denver appeared to be a smoggy sprawl-filled industrial complex. High rises in the distance promised something more, some change in the desert-like scenery, but it came across like Charlotte, NC does. Flat, flat, flat, then BAM! High rises. Not aesthetically pleasing.

Breckenridge, on the other hand, is beautiful, albeit in a Swiss-chalet-rugged-Rocky-Mountain-High-meets-tiny-Thomas-Kinkade-Christmas-village kind of way. There's great looking abandoned houses there. I say great looking because they're all rugged and windblown like a derelict, falling-down homestead you'd find out on the prairie in Butch Cassidy or something. Buildings left over from when Breckenridge was a gold mining town. We passed a high school in Idaho Springs (on the way to Breck) and on the football field in huge letters was written, "Idaho Springs Goldiggers!" How awesome is that? Evidently the theme carries. Great beer in Idaho Springs by the way. Stop off at the Tommyknocker Brewery and Pub on your way to Breck and order a porter. You won't regret it.

The town of Breckenridge definitely has a Christmas-ey feel to it. Blue lights on the trees - lights everywhere actually. They looked beautiful against the constant snow falling each day we were there. Tiny flakes of constant light fluffy snow that packed well so you crunched when you walked. And you could walk everywhere as most of the restaurants, coffee shops, and ski gear and "crap" stores were located on Main Street. A crap store is a store you find in any vacation town. They sell souvenirs, tee shirts, ugly art that you love with three hot toddies in you but when you hang it up at home later you think, "CRAP!" You know, CRAP stores?

As I said, the whole town was adorned in tiny Christmas lights. Some shops even had holiday wreaths still on the doors, in February, and one coffee shop had a small Santa by the register. Which is where the story is. Finally. HERE is the travel story I've been searching for.

Every store, every street, every lane, every condo, light post, and sign had their holiday finery on. Christmas lights up. In February. It's like beneath the cheery veneer, Breckenridge is lost in time. As far as they were concerned, it was still December. Are they so lethargic they can't take down their holiday crap? (there's that word again) or are they trying to attract some form of tourist who seeks out stores like The Christmas Mouse, where they celebrate Jesus's birth every single day of the frikkin' year? Is it a ploy to attract business? Desire a magical Christmas ski village for your next vacatin? Why, step right this way!

It might be a ploy, because you see, no one was IN Breckenridge. Breckenridge was dead. Dead as a doornail. No one was there - yet another vacation town hit by the tanked economy. My husband skiied all day while I trolled the main drag, going into coffee shops for a latte, eating lunch (in an adorable little vegan restaurant called Amazing Grace, but more on that later). And everywhere I went, I was the only person in the place. Maybe 10-15 people on the street at the most.

Now you could argue it was because most people were skiing. This is a ski town after all, the weather was pretty good, so why wouldn't you be on the slopes? Except Hubby agreed the town was dead. He'd been here at the same time in previous years when it was positively PACKED with skiers. But this time? The lines at the lifts were non-existent. Trails uncrowded. We'd go to eat somewhere at 8pm and be the only people in the place, the proprietors giving us looks like they wanted to close up. I can't remember the last time I stayed so long in a restaurant I closed it down, but here we were doing it regularly. By going out to eat at 7:30! Very weird.

We would ask these proprietors if they had been hit hard because of the economy and they'd give us a look like they didn't know what we were talking about. Store clerks shrugging their shoulders like we were speaking Latin. I asked the concierge at the hotel if business was slow, and he gave me a look like, "No. We're fine. Just FINE," before saying just as much. But what I saw in his face tells me something else. Everything is clearly NOT fine.

Underneath all the Christmas-ey lights was a quiet desperation. A pleading. See the pretty snow? See the pretty lights? Doesn't it make you happy? Doesn't it make you want to spend money? Lots of money? This vibe of desperation that settled over everything like the constant snow depressed me. Because every day I explored Breckenridge I met so many super-friendly local people, business owners ekeing out a living in this small rugged little mountain town. Cut off from the rest of the world by the craggy Rocky Mountains. Moving here to rake in the dough from the rich Denver-ites and tourists who crave that ski rush. And here they are at the height of season sitting on their hands.

These folks are so genuine too. Really chatty and helpful and generous with their time and their courtesy. Small-town friendliness in a vacation spot? How often do you see that? Hubby and I remarked that we met not one rude person the whole week we were there. Breckenridgers exude a, "We're all in this together, so let's make it work," kind of feeling, despite the desperation of these times. It makes you want them to succeed. To win in this crap economy.

It was the snow and the skiing, and the natural beauty that took us to Breckenridge, but it was the people that will take us back. I just hope when we go, that I don't find my favorite coffee shops have closed. Because that would be a damn shame.

Click Here to Read More..

Monday, February 2, 2009

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey with Procession, by Canaletto, 1749.

While in London this past June, Hubby and I of course visited Westminster Abbey. Along with Big Ben and the Tower of London, it's in the triumvirate of "must see" tourist sites.

I wanted to show it to him because of a magical day I spent there back in 1996. Unfortunately, the best laid plans and all that. This day was cold, rainy where before it had been beautiful sunny, strolling weather. I remember I walked the length of the Thames that day - all the way to the Tate, past the Rodin sculpture of The Burghers of Calais.

Where before I had the whole day before me to explore every nook and cranny of the abbey, this visit saw us rushing about like mad tourists on a 3-hour visa. We hadn't kept good track of the time, and so were left with the prospect of trying to see a centuries-old cathedral the size of three city blocks in an hour. We couldn't try again tomorrow - we were leaving tomorrow. Sigh. A short visit is better than nothing I suppose. It made me sad because I wanted Hubby to experience Westminster the same way I had - slowly, gradually, letting the grandiose beauty and weighty history settle over you like a warm comforter. Instead we tried to see as much of the history, the stony tombs and smell the earthy granite and wet earth of the inner Cloisters before the security guards could shoo us out. I remember we searched frantically to see the shrine to Sir Isaac Newton (Hubby is a physicist) before realizing the golden monstrosity right before our eyes was actually it. Kind of a letdown after so much "treasure" hunting.

I had first visited Westminster in April 1996. I was down from Glasgow where I was sharing a flat with two friends, playing the expatriate card until the money ran out. Visiting my friend Carter who was living in Piccadilly Circus in a tiny two-room apartment above a porn theater and a butcher. Just down the alley from the main square. We'd leave his building and see dead rabbits hanging by their ears next to a window full of purple dildoes. The red neon would seep into his apartment at night when the lights were out giving the place a bordello-like air. The LOUDEST apartment I've ever visited, because not only could you hear all the foot traffic from Piccadilly, but there was a major market in this alley every day and so at 4am on the dot, merchants would bang together pipes to form their stalls. Between the red neon and the banging, I didn't sleep.

My friend shared the place with his Japanese girlfriend whose father was a vice president at Nissan or something. She lived in Covent Garden and bought all her clothes at full price designer shops and had her shoes made to fit. When I asked where she got the fabulous pair of laceup shoes she was wearing, she replied they were handmade in Florence for only $1000. For someone who had worked two jobs for a year to spend six months traveling the UK, this was beyond extravagant.

A highlight of this trip was going to Westminster. Carter and girlfriend worked at World Bank, and while they have lived in London almost 2 years, they had never visited and had no interest in starting the tourist thing now. So I was left to my own devices which I preferred anyway. I remember being nervous I wouldn't be able to handle the Tube or even find the place. I needn't have worried - the Tube is so easy a child could handle it (once you get by which branches are closed on which days). And Westminster is so huge there's no mistaking it.

Two enormous brown towers rising from the banks of the Thames - so heavily garreted as to not look even real. Like the gargoyles you see living on the tops of churches decided to make the most of their free time instead of just sitting around. Carving out little curlicued garrets in the dark of night - beautiful things that emerge with sunrise. I was astounded by how large it was. And how old. Remembering it now, it actually *was* the first cathedral I had ever seen up close. I was awestruck.

Going inside was even better. The abbey is so large you literally feel as if your whole world has been reduced to miniature. Every footfall echoes. Every touch of my hand on stone tombs or wooden rails brought history forth when I thought of the hundreds of thousands who had walked this walk and touched these things before me. Purposely I took no map, wanting to discover on my own. Here was the tomb of William Gladstone the great statesman. There is one of an actual knight, clutching a sword to his chest, buried in 1152. With each room I entered I let the history wash over me. Overwhelming, but in a fantastic way.

What I liked most was how much I learned by wandering. Entering one room, I found a great tomb encased in marble with a golden roof and black stone pillars. Almost as if the tomb itself was a throne. Here was Queen Mary Tudor buried underneath Queen Elizabeth I (her half-sister). You mean they were buried on TOP of one another? But they HATED each other! I was floored to discover this. In another room, up high, sat the throne on which every king and queen of England had been crowned since the year 700. A simple wooden chair. Heavily scarred by years of graffiti because before people realized its importance to history, it had been used in the school for boys as a classroom chair. It was pure function before they realized it just might be priceless. I was left wondering who had carved what into its mangled arms before they became king. Picturing Henry VIII carving "H's" when he should've been studying his Latin.

Wandering in another part of the Abbey I discovered Poet's Corner. Here were memorials to all the greats: Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Yeats, the Brownings, and of course, Shakespeare. A scowling bust of William Blake stared down at me. I felt as if I'd reached my Mecca. My place of worship. So many memorials to so many important authors. So many of their words molded and shaped my writing and love of reading today. I felt as if I had to sit down right then and take in the enormity of it all. It was so overwhelming the only thing I could think to do was write about it.

As I found a seat in a pew and pulled out my journal, a man with a soft, echoing voice announced it was now noon. At noon, the abbey bells toll in memory for all those lost in war. If we could please maintain silence for the next 15 minutes we would honor those forever lost. And then the bells began to toll. Large and looming. Booming sounds full of wholeness and clarity and longing. It was stunningly beautiful. And for the next 15 minutes, as I sat recording my thoughts, the only sounds heard in that massive place were soft echoing footfalls. People tiptoeing through history. Muffled whispers which ceased the minute they were uttered when the speakers realized how much sound carried in this thunderous abbey of wood and stone.

I tried to take it all in. To breathe the history into my pores. To feel the vibrations of voices past pass through me. The kings, queens, scientists and statesmen, lords and ladies, knights and monks. All of whom had worshipped here or been crowned here or been buried here. It was unfathomable. Listening for the past. I'll never forget what it felt like. It must be what "being in the moment" feels like because for those 15 minutes there was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be.

Click Here to Read More..

where i've escaped...

template by - header image by Martin Walls