Notes From Swan's Nest


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Culinary Travels and New Friendships

It’s been a fun month of culinary travel, first to Snowmass, Colorado and shortly thereafter, my first visit to North Dakota. Each was a memorable experience that led to new friendships, teaching opportunities, and learning opportunities for ME.

I was honored to participate in the 2010 inaugural Snowmass Culinary & Arts Festival in early August. The last time Randy and I were in Snowmass was for a family reunion years ago. Arriving this time as one of several celebrity chefs was a very different experience. The car was loaded with boxes of cookbooks and DVD’s, plus a ton of decorative items for my tablescapes seminar the following morning – dishes, glassware, chargers, placemats in various colors and shapes, fabrics, candles, and floral arrangements I’d created the prior evening. As the doorman at The Silvertree Hotel rushed to get a second cart, I couldn’t help thinking it looked like we were planning to spend month! Why couldn’t I just be the intellectual type who travels with no more than a PowerPoint presentation?

Snowmass Village was pretty quiet Friday evening, so I was a bit concerned no one would show up to my “Art of Presentation” tablescapes seminar the next morning at 10. I needn’t have worried. By the time my energetic volunteers Lori and Denise helped me set my tables, most of the chairs in the large tent were filled with guests eager to learn decorative secrets, ways to create memorable gatherings, and answers to the timeless question – when do I remove the charger from the table? The seminar provided the chance to highlight the Festival’s mission – a blend of culinary and art – as I incorporated artwork into each tabletop display, to enthusiastic oo’s and ahs from the crowd.

Next came a panel discussion on Local Foods. An impressive lineup of celebrity chefs sat beside me, including Chef Alfred Portale of New York’s Gotham Bar and Grill, Chef Laurent Tourondel of New York’s BLT Restaurants, and Chef Frank Bonanno from Mizuna and Luca d’Itlaia in Denver, as well as edibleAspen magazine editor Aimee White Beazley and our moderator, Aspen Times arts editor Stewart Oksenhorn. Again, a large crowd turned out for this discussion – a clear indication that consumers are truly interested in where their food comes from, its freshness, seasonality, and the practicality of always cooking and eating fresh, whether they’re in a supermarket, farmers market, or a restaurant.

On a lighter note, one audience member asked each of us what we’d want for our last meal. Chef Tourondel wanted a hamburger, Chef Bonanno preferred fois gras, and I selected rack of lamb – my all-time favorite. To a question on serving local wines, I confessed to a lack of familiarity with Colorado wines, Chef Portale responded that his menu includes a page of New York wines, and then I heard someone say “box wines”. The chefs chose not to go there…..

Immediately after the panel, I raced to my chef’s station for the late-afternoon “Palate of Pairings”. While I had been involved in the panel discussion and a radio interview with The Gabby Gourmet, my team of chefs and culinary wizards had been chopping & slicing ingredients for the Grilled Moroccan Lamb Kabobs with Tzatziki we would be servings to hundreds of guests in a few hours. Aspen chef Greg Shaffran and Colorado Mountain College’s culinary student Ryan Brookie were assisted by volunteer Pamela Ingram, and when I returned to the station, we recruited my husband Randy to help. Whoever said there are too many chefs in the kitchen never prepped for a culinary event! My group of chefs had the best time in Snowmass Village as we laughed, sliced, chopped, diced, mixed, and skewered enough kabobs and sauce for 500 guests! The kabobs were beautifully paired with a Pinot Noir from Carmel Road Winery in Monterey County. But the best part? The guests loved our lamb kabobs. Some returned four times for one more taste, and others arrived saying they had heard about the lamb kabobs from the other end of the mall. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Can’t wait to share my culinary adventures in North Dakota with you!


Waking to the Wonders of Nature

I awoke to the sight of geese on our front lawn at Swan’s Nest this morning. Ten beautiful creatures walked along the grass, foraging for whatever geese like for breakfast, ever-watchful for signs of danger or items of interest. I didn’t hear the geese arrive, but as I stood at the window watching them, one of the birds began to honk, filling the early- morning quiet with its call. Soon they settled down again and continued looking for food before flying away 30 minutes later.

Although Randy and I see geese fly past our home during the summer on their way to and from a nearby pond, it’s not until autumn’s approach that they seem to visit our front lawn each year. Does this mean an early fall at Swan’s Nest? Certainly, we’ve experienced much more rain during the past two weeks than usual, and cooler mornings, but I’m reluctant in early-August to give a moment’s thought to autumn and the long winter that soon follows.

On the contrary, I’m totally focused on farmers markets, garden flowers, and fresh farm-to-table meals we’re enjoying this summer. Randy and I celebrate each summer day over meals of savory, grilled Colorado-raised lamb chops from a family farm, tender sautéed chicken with vegetables, Rocky Mountain trout, sweet Olathe corn-on-the-cob slathered with butter and a sprinkle of salt, juicy seedless watermelon and Rocky Ford cantaloupe, fresh plump blueberries, fresh-from-the-vine Palisade tomatoes and the sweetest, juiciest peaches I’ve every tasted, tender salad greens, and farm-made goat cheese.

In my book, these meals are culinary wonders of nature. Randy and I look forward to sitting down to dinner each evening at the circa 1800’s chopping block table he carefully sanded and refinished, and then installed in the bay window of Swan’s Nest’s new kitchen so we can gaze at the mountain peaks as we dine. Our taste buds fairly dance in anticipation of the flavors awaiting us. In tribute to the freshness of each ingredient, I allow their natural flavors to shine as much as possible – not masking them with sauces and breaded coatings. Rather, I pair star ingredients with fresh herbs, garlic, seasonings, or a spritz of fresh citrus juice.

Next week, I’m participating in the Snowmass Culinary & Arts Festival in Snowmass, Colorado. During the Palate of Pairings on Saturday August 14, I’ll be showcasing sustainable Colorado foods while serving hundreds of guests Grilled Moroccan Lamb Kabobs, served with tzatziki – a cool, yogurt-based sauce enhanced with fresh garlic, finely-chopped cucumber, fresh mint, and a squeeze of lemon juice; paired with Carmel Road Pinot Noir. Earlier in the day, I’ll be presenting a tablescapes seminar called “The Art of Presentation”, and in the early afternoon will participate in a chef panel on New American Cuisine. It will be a fun-filled weekend of culinary discoveries and a juried art show, set against the breathtaking background of majestic mountains in Snowmass, Colorado. There’s still time to register and join me for all the fun, so please consider this your personal invitation!