Really, It’s About the Food

Deep down, I love food more than I probably should (hence, the extra “baby weight” I’ve been carrying around for 10+ years). Food isn’t just about sustenance for me. It’s about gathering, expressing, and connecting with other people. Food is universal. It’s communal. It’s peaceful. It’s love.

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I find solace in cooking and sharing thoughtfully prepared meals with people I hold dear. And I believe every amazing dish starts with quality ingredients. Not just any tomato will do in a scrumptious end-of-summer BLT. No, no. It must be the freshest, brightest, juiciest tomato, plucked from a vine hopefully in my backyard, but if not, a vine as close to my backyard as possible. I don’t think there is a more disappointing food experience than to bite into a sub-par tomato. Why bother?!

I loved my work with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, promoting Colorado Proud and Colorado-grown food and agricultural products. I was downright giddy when I had to drive five and a half hours across the state to the Western Slope to wander through peach orchards and vineyards, and taste the freshest produce you could imagine.

IMG_2864It’s hot and dry on the Western Slope. You get dusty, and you have to swat away gnats and flies with fury. Many people might be miserable talking about when the first frost of season will be or how many pieces of fruit you can process in a day. Or how far a particular farm’s distribution is, or which retailers and restaurants carry Colorado fruits and veggies and other products. But my heart sang…and my mouth watered. Because really, it’s always been about the food.

 

All that brings me back to the original intent of this blog. I want to share my love of food and cooking with as many like-minded people (and hopefully a few converts) as possible. Yes, I want to continue sharing my travel, home and motherhood adventures, but I really want to talk about food.

It’s late summer, so across most agriculture country in the U.S., it’s harvest season. That means an abundance of fresh, local food, and it’s my favorite time of year to eat. In celebration of eating the very best, I’m sharing one of my favorite ways to use up peak summer veggies: Fresh End-of-Summer Gazpacho. Oh my god! I would bathe in this stuff if I could.

 

My version was inspired by a recipe I first found in a Williams Sonoma catalog, or it could’ve been an e-mail. I don’t remember exactly, but it was a recipe that used all fresh veggies. There was no canned or jarred tomato juice to be found. It sounded divine, so I gave it a go. I’ve probably made it 20 times during the past three summers, and I so look forward to it when I see the first bright, plump tomatoes appear in late summer. It requires a bit of prep work, but it’s otherwise easy, peasy. Give it a go with that extra tomato sitting on your counter. For this recipe, you’ll be so glad you bothered.

Fresh End-of-Summer Gazpacho

  • 2 ripe, medium-sized tomatoes (I sometimes use heirlooms, depending on color)
  • 1 jar of roasted sweet red peppers (not fresh, I know, I know, but roasting your own peppers is tedious and so unnecessary. You won’t be able to tell if they’re fresh or not when the dish is complete)
  • 1 medium English cucumber, chopped; peeled and seeded if it’s a thick-skinned cucumber with seeds
  • 1 sweet pepper (green, red, yellow, orange, doesn’t matter what color), finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons of Sherry vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed

Cut your tomatoes in half and place the cut side on the biggest holes on a box grater (if you don’t have a box grater, go get one. Every proper home kitchen needs one. Seriously!). Place over a large bowl and grate the tomato down to the skin. The tomato skin acts as a barrier, so don’t worry about cutting yourself. Get as much of the flesh as you can and repeat with each tomato half until you have a thick bunch of tomato goodness at the bottom of your bowl. Throw in your chopped cuke, sweet pepper, red onion and Jalapeño and give it stir to mix all the ingredients together. 

Take your jar of roasted red peppers and put them in a food processor or blender (again, if you don’t have at least a blender, get thee to Bed, Bath & Beyond immediately!). Process the peppers until smooth and pour directly into the bowl with the rest of your ingredients. Stir a few more times to blend. Add the salt, vinegar and oil. Stir, and taste. Add more salt and a little pepper if you’d like. Grab a ladle and some bowls and spoons, throw on a few cubes of avocado, dive in, and do as I do…dream of a tomato bath. Enjoy!

Since I’ve made this A LOT, I’ve learned a few things along with way. It’s true, chopping the veggies sucks, so like me, you might be thinking, “I can just throw everything in the food processor or blender, hit ‘go,’ and I’m done.” Don’t do it. You will end up with a veggie mash that looks a bit like what comes up and out of a backed-up kitchen drain after you’ve made a giant salad. Both a blender and food processor tend to liquify everything, even if you’ve carefully “pulsed” your ingredients. The only things you want liquified are the tomatoes and the roasted peppers. Everything else you want in nice, bite-sized chunks. You just can’t get that with a piece of powerful, electric kitchen equipment. I’ve found that a nice, cool glass of crisp rosé makes chopping veggies much more enjoyable. Trust me on this one.

Invest in and use good Sherry vinegar in this recipe. You don’t use that much, and once you’ve had good Sherry vinegar, you’ll fine yourself using it a lot. I store my good vinegars in the fridge, so they keep a little longer anyway.

I think this gets better after a day of chilling and sitting in the fridge. But you can certainly serve it immediately. I’ve eaten a big bowl with some grilled bread for a light dinner, or you can serve it as a first course or in place of a salad along with grilled meat.

One bite, and you’ll know it’s love!

The Miller Road Trip 2017: Highlights from the Final Week

We’re home! I’ve done tons of reflecting on our trip, and not much else. I’ve been hitting the farmers markets and exploring new recipes with summer’s bounty. In fact, in six days since being back, I’ve been to three farmers markets and to the grocery store at least as many times as well. We ate well on our trip, but I was definitely missing fresh produce. Colorado peaches and melons are in season, and I’m in culinary heaven!

As I usually do, I digress. Back to the highlights of our adventure. In a word, our trip was amazing. I was amazed by the scenery, the national park system and the ability of our planet earth to evolve and sustain itself. I was amazed by people, by my kids’ own sense of adventure and by their willingness to seek out new experiences. Finally, I was amazed by the ease of the whole trip. It truly was easy, and that’s a big reason it was amazing. We had so much fun, and I’m grateful. Here are the highlights from our last week:

41. The drive from Las Vegas to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is so unsuspecting. There are cliffs, red rocks and a few small-ish mountains, but it’s otherwise fairly flat, and desolate. There are no hints that one of the seven wonders of the world is a mere miles away.

42. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is at a higher elevation than the South Rim (8,000 ft. vs. 7,000 ft.), so it tends to be cooler, too. And cooler it was! It was foggy and drizzly when we arrived in the evening and only about 57 degrees. We camped about 40 miles north of the park and had our one night of rain the whole trip. The tent held up beautifully. It was chilly but dry.

43. We woke up to overcast skies and still cooler temperatures. As we drove through the park entrance, I joked with the boys, saying, “wouldn’t it be funny if we drove all the way here and couldn’t see the canyon?!” I never believed it to be true. It’s the “GRAND” Canyon after all. But, alas, it was true. When we arrived at the North Rim Lodge, it was a torrential downpour, and fog covered every view point of the canyon. We truly could see nothing but fog and a few trees.

44. After lunch at the lodge (with NO view), we drove up the road to a few different view points to see if the fog would clear and we could catch a glimpse of the grandness (what else were we going to do?). When we reached Point Imperial, it’s as if the clouds parted just for us, and the canyon revealed itself and all its glory.

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Our view of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim Lodge.
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Our view from Imperial Point, about 10 miles north east of the lodge.

45. Firewood at developed campgrounds is a hot commodity and a bit like the three bears searching for comfort in Goldilocks’s cabin. The first bunch of wood I bought was stolen as we drove around looking for elusive views of the Grand Canyon. The second, partially burned bunch was a tad too wet and wouldn’t hold a flame even after THREE boxes of matches. The third pack turned out to be just right and gave us flames that roasted marshmallows to perfection.

46. Thunderstorms in the desert not only provide hydration for parched land. They cool off the air, making sight-seeing, picture-taking and an otherwise steep and grueling hike bearable and even enjoyable.

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A new day and new views. Rocco is being dramatic. This was taken from the same lodge deck in the picture above where the boys are wearing their jackets.

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Contemplation and snacks after our hike into the canyon.

47. Fundamentalist and polygamist Mormons really do exist and they live on the Arizona/Utah border in the towns of Colorado City, AZ, and in Hildale, UT, both of which we drove through on our way to the North Rim and then again on our way to Zion.

 

48. We drove through Zion at Sunset, and it was majestic.

49. During the day, Zion had a Disney-esque feeling to it. Parking in the park was impossible, so I paid $20 to park just outside the park, yet still close to the visitor’s center and the main park shuttle. I could’ve parked for free five miles further away, but it would’ve meant an additional shuttle ride.

50. While our hike into the famed “Narrows” on the Virgin River at the north end of Zion Canyon was unique and the boys loved it, it was far from a peaceful, serene or solitary experience. It was more like a mass pilgrimage to some unknown stone mecca with hundreds, if not thousands, of other people of various preparedness, traipsing across unsteady river rock through knee-deep murky water.

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Shuttle buses in the canyon. This is at the trailhead leading to the Narrows hike.
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Us, and the rest of humankind in Zion.

51. Roadside dining in Utah turned out to be surprisingly good. We had a satisfying steak dinner near Cedar City, breakfast croissants and other pastries at German bakery near Orderville and a big ol’ plate of biscuits and gravy at a diner in Hatch.

52. Bryce Canyon has the most unique rock formations of all the national parks we visited. The spires, or “hoodoos” as they’re called, almost look like giant stone people standing at attention, purposely yet patiently waiting for tourists like us to take their picture.

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A more solitary hike in Bryce Canyon.
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The rock spires standing at attention as our backdrop in Bryce Canyon.
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More solitude in Bryce Canyon.

53. It was bound to happen. I got pulled over for speeding. I was going 46 in a 30 on my way out of a small town. The trooper was professional and nice enough, and I thought for sure I was going to get a ticket. Nope. Just a warning. I counted my blessings and drove like an old lady going to church on Sunday.

54. When we arrived in Capitol Reef National Park, and as we stared up at even more imposing rock formations and sheer canyon walls taller than city skyscrapers, one of my boys pointed out that “we’d seen a lot of rocks” on our trip. Truth.

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Rocks in Capitol Reef.

55. Moab, Utah, is a haven for adventurists. Whether river rafting, mountain biking, four-wheeling, canyoneering, ATV-ing, UTV-ing (I’m still not sure what the “U” stands for), rock climbing or just hiking, you can find your adventure within 30 miles. Just don’t bring your dog.

56.  Dogs are welcome in the national parks, just not on any of the trails, in the buildings or on any park shuttles. In Moab, it was much too hot to leave her in the car, even with the windows down and a bowl of water. And we weren’t supposed to leave her in our hotel during the day, so along she came for our drive through the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park.

57. Shafer Trail Road looked like a well-traveled gravel road from the rim of Shafer Canyon just outside the Canyonlands visitors center. But as I drove 1,500 feet down into the depths of the canyon, I quickly realized the phrase “looks can be deceiving” rang quite true. Shafter Trail Road was steep, rocky and long. When we finally reached pavement again after an hour and a half of 10-mile-per-hour top speeds, I was relieved.

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On the edge of Shafer Canyon in Canyonlands. That’s Shafer Trail Road on the canyon floor behind the boys, 1,500 feet below. 
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A break from our drive on Shafer Trail Road. The Colorado River is just below the rim behind Rocco. It all looks deceivingly tame, doesn’t it?

58. Delicate Arch, perhaps the most famous arch in Arches National Park, is a short 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot. But the hike is steep, exposed, hot and crowded. It was totally worth it, though. The arch is huge and imposing. It dwarfs any human standing underneath it and it is far from delicate.

59. Just like Zion, Arches felt Disney-esque. In fact as we were getting ready for the Delicate Arch hike, a large bus pulled up and dropped off almost two dozen people. What appeared to be the tour guide had a hand-held sign with none other than “Disney” printed on it. The group dutifully followed the man with the sign and stopped at various places along the trail for geology and history lessons. At one stop, a woman bringing up the rear (who I think was also a tour guide) went around with a spray bottle and squirted each person in the group with what was probably a refreshing mist. As sweat dripped down my forehead and in between my shoulder blades, I was envious. But I was also sort of appalled. Was this geological wonder nothing more than a Disney attraction for these people?

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Delicate Arch.

60. It’s funny how 350 miles can feel close after driving nearly 5,000 miles. So after probably five miles of hiking in 95 degree heat in Arches, I decided to just power through and head home. We stopped for dinner at the Palisade Cafe in Palisade, Colorado, one of my very favorite agriculture communities. Peaches are in season, so we had BLPs and peach cobbler for dessert. It was the perfect meal to end our epic adventure.

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Back home…almost.
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Colorado peaches! 

We arrived home at 9:45 p.m., still sticky from the sweat of our morning hikes in the desert. It was good to be home if for nothing else other than a shower and clean clothes. But I could have kept going. My kids missed their dad or they could have kept going, too. We had so much fun. It was elating, freeing and exhilarating, and I can’t wait to do it again.