It’s officially the holidays. Although we already knew that. I knew that as far back as early November when I touched down in the UK to find that seasonal lights, Christmas trees, and sequined nutcrackers were already in full swing.

But that was London. There were other parts of Britain that I visited too. Parts less showy, less flashy, more understated, defined by rolling green pastures and black rubber boots. Parts that were no doubt celebrating the holidays, but you had to look for it. A seasonal mince pie here, some Christmas pudding gelato there.

Welcome to the countryside.

The Talbot Hotel

Yorkshire that is, and the second and final post of my two-part series on the UK, food + travel.

If there were ever a fitting stop to begin my Yorkshire adventures, it would be Malton. After departing from York and driving past endless meadows dotted with sheep and the occasional herd of cattle, I found myself staring up the imposing stone façade of the Malton Hotel where I’d be spending two glorious nights in the type of comfort that would have driven Laura Ashley into a jealous rage. Fabrics full of bounce and English rose. Handsome paintings of stallions and hounds and fine men in even finer hunting dress. Verdant dales, kissed with sun and a touch of English mist, peeking through every window. Those Bronté sisters knew where to set up shack.

The point of my visit though, despite my sudden desire to learn a craft like floral arranging or needlework, was food.

And much like I did on my city adventures, I tuckered into all that Yorkshire and its countryside had to offer.

The Talbot Restaurant

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“What’s the purpose of your stay?”

“I’m on a food tour of the U.K.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, I have a food blog.”

“I was thinking of starting me one of those too. Me ‘n my partner, we had a name for it, ‘The Wobbly Table’. That’s the worst part of a restaurant experience isn’t it? The wobbly table. The name was taken though. What’s the name of yours?”

“Feed Me Dearly.”

“You got a card on ya?”

I rooted around my 20-year old blue canvas passport wallet, the one that still carries a yellowed love note from my husband, and passed him my information in pseudo-laminate form: website name, email address, social details.

The passport control agent looked at it, smiled at the three mischievous toeheads staring up from his palm, and let me through.

“Welcome to London.”

 

London

The Knightsbridge Hotel

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

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It was Monday September 19, 2016 and I’d flown back from Portland, Oregon the previous day, exhausted, sick of food, happy.

I’d just spent 4 days drinking and eating my way through the Feast Portland food festival, stopping for a breather on Saturday because my body, I’d realized, could no longer handle mass volumes of pork belly and Oregon pinot.

Still a fan of Snapchat at the time, I’d video scanned my itinerary into the app as I walked through my plans for each of my 4 days in Portland. Sandwich Invitational, drink tank, another drink tank, Grand Tasting, Night Market, yet another drink tank, Smoked, Brunch Village. It was paradise for the lush and the lover of food.

After touching down at New York’s JFK airport, I filed a mental note to return to Feast the following year.

By winter I was feeling a stronger Portland itch and started to look into plans for Feast Portland 2017. I sketched out a list of Airbnb properties where I could stay and live more locally, outside of the downtown area known for its shopping, restaurants and high rise hotels. I was struck by a number of consistencies: craftsman houses, white furnishings, modern lighting, Pendleton blankets, houseplants. I could get behind this for a few days.

Fast forward a few more months and I received an email from Feast Portland’s organizers – would I be interested in cooking at Feast this year?

If there’s ever been a “hallelujah, I’ve arrived” moment in my stop-and-go food career, this would be it. Although I’ll never cop to jumping and fist pumping, a fly on the wall might have seen it.

I’d be cooking alongside three other women whom I’d long admired – Eva Kosmas Flores from Adventures in Cooking, Ashley Alexander from Gather and Feast, and Joy the Baker. The plan was to host a dinner for 60 on Sauvie Island, outdoors in the elements with a fleet of volunteers ready to help us plate, serve, and help make our evening spectacular.

Gilding the Feast Portland lily even further, Travel Oregon invited me to join several other media professionals on a pre-Feast 3-day trip down the Oregon Coast for a tour of Oregon’s notable hotels and restaurants and while in transit, stop to catch sight of the state’s rugged coastline and wildlife.

On September 11, 2017, after a hasty airport terminal re-packing of my entire suitcase to make sure that I didn’t exceed Delta’s second overage fee for bags over 70 lbs, I headed west, touching down in Portland just after noon. First stop, the Dossier hotel located in downtown Portland.

My itinerary for the week was mighty – a quick unpack at the Dossier, then off to transport my kitchen gear to the newly renovated cooking studio and event space “Tendue” from the team at Secret Supper

From there I’d hit up Jacobsen Salt Co. for some kosher and finishing salts for our event. Somehow my buddy Ben suckered me into running a 6K Healthyish fun run on Friday morning, the night after our first Feast event. (Post mortem analysis of the fun run would later indicate that 1. Hangover runs are not fun, and 2. I’m possibly the most competitive person north of the equator, turning our group jog into a single-person Olympic time trial, also not fun.) 

Next I’d meet up with my friend Zeph from Proletariat Butchery for barrel-aged negronis mixed by fellow Traeger Grills pro team member Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common; drive to dinner for shaved ham, handmade pasta & meatballs and the infamous cavolo nero salad at local Portland favorite Ava Gene’s. We’d finish the night with beer and coconut ice cream on the rooftop bar at Departure Lounge run by Top Chef runner up Gregory Gourdet. 

And this was just Monday. None of this comprised even a single sentence in the knee-deep itinerary sent to me, in app form no less!, by my friends at Travel Oregon.

I figured that in order to fit this trip into a digestible single-serve blog post that it might be prudent to create a photo journal of sorts. Yes there were stories. Of whales and wolves, and of chefs in Harry Potter outfits. There were friendships formed, hazelnut beers consumed, sunrises watched, forests hiked. I might have used my Feast media pass to sneak into a country music concert. I’m quite certain that I ate my weight in gluten. I definitely chugged a full glass of champagne from a chambong at the Bon Appétit after party, which caused me to (classily of course) lose my footing and topple off a 4-foot wall into a crowd of horrified bystanders. (Note, I’m still not sure if I’m invited back next year or if I earned MVP status that night, Feast Portland organizers, please weigh in.) 

But perhaps these details are better conserved as the lore of Feast. That dreamy destination where no set of words can accurately describe the sprightly conversations, the extended bellies and unbuttoned jeans, the whiskey-inflected off-kilter balance and in some cases, the majestic set of purple thigh bruises that result when food and drink and friendship are combined in awe-inspiring doses.

It’s an experience. One that I hope that I’ll be a part of again and again. 

And now friends, some photographs.

The Dossier Hotel, downtown Portland

 

Wolves & People farmhouse brewery, Willamette Valley wine country

 

Lunch at Valley Commissary, McMinnville

 

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I’ve been on retreat.

I won’t get into the details of why, when, or how I ended up in this sacred place called “Callanish”, deep in the mountains of British Columbia. But I will say that, although I don’t look for signs in my life, like a cloud shaped like “The Giving Tree”, there was some unknown force that pulled me there.

I spent a week with a group of women living with breast cancer, in most cases metastatic, some of them young, like me, with elementary school-aged kids at home. We explored a range of difficult subjects – identity, love, isolation, and fear. 

The experience was beautiful and painful, a re-birth in many ways. Only through great physical exertion do we bring forth our children into the world, and as such, I had to pant and sweat and whack at the underbrush to clear a path for this baby-soft new me. A “me” who doesn’t want to shut herself off from the world. A “me” who no longer dreads making plans for coffee with a friend. Lets her text messages pile up. Doesn’t respond to email. Can’t mention her kids in her blog posts because it’s just too painful to go there.

I’ve had many happy moments over the past few months. The kids’ nightly tuck-ins and discussions about their day, long walks along the Hudson with Jackson, whose quiet and loving company I’ve come to appreciate more than ever. 

As much support as I’ve gotten for the honesty in my recent posts, the fact remains: I am scared. With data at my back that suggests that I won’t be here in five years, I’ve had many hard days.

I’m not playing red or black at Roulette. In fact, those odds would thrill me. Without my consent, the universe has put all of my chips on a single number, and as the wheel spins, I am powerless to control where that tiny ball will jump, skip, and ultimately land. I know that eating well, meditating, and all of my new-aged “integrative” habits will serve me well. But even when you do everything that is required to heal yourself….even then… the odds will terrify.

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“Do you smell it? It’s the smell of millions of pennies.”

It was the first thing that I noticed after pulling the car off the road on our way to Truth or Consequences.

We’d seen the mines on the way into Silver City but with our pending lunch reservation and sputtering tank of gas, didn’t feel that a close inspection of the mine would be a good use of time.

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Now, there we stood, facing a magnificent expanse of copper and stone, the Santa Rita copper mine; a mine used by Apaches, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Americans since 1800.

There’s something eery about a mine of this size. There’s the smell – familiar yet different; copper tinged with the industrial smell of truck exhaust and smoke. But more surprisingly, there’s a stillness in the air. There are no people, no visible machines, just a few trucks, the size of ants, groaning imperceptibly beneath their heavy loads.

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We took in the immense view, squinted at the Kneeling Nun rock formation at the northern tip of the mine, and then climbed back into the Beetle. Next stop, Truth or Consequences.

After the popular NBC Radio program of the same name promised a yearly festival to the town that would change its name to Truth or Consequences, the town formerly known as “Hot Springs” made the switch.

Our destination in Truth or Consequences, or “T or C” to the locals: the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, a property recently purchased and renovated by Ted Turner Enterprises. Although the natural hot springs have always been the main event in Truth or Consequences, the town and surrounding areas are readying themselves for a new frontier in tourism: space exploration. Spaceport America, home to Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, lies 20 miles to the southeast.

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The hot springs in Truth or Consequences are known to be some of the best in the country, without the distinctive sulphur smell that accompanies so many other hot springs locations. We arrived at the hotel and booked private tubs – each one situated in its own soaking room. Some of the hotel’s soaking rooms are minimalist while others are designed like Turkish baths, with extensive tiling and wall murals.

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