Autumn stoke: An offseason reset to recharge for the winter
It’s a semi-serious joke heard ’round Black Rock City: a fast, easy way to lose a few pounds is the Burning Man Diet. The plan is followed, cult-like, by enthusiastic masses during the annual, end-of-summer celebration that culminates Labor Day weekend in the remote Nevada desert: Soak up eternal sunshine and arid heat for a week to 10 days! Consume copious mind-altering substances that render food a literal afterthought! Bicycle miles across dusty playa and climb enormous art sculptures to your tomboy heart’s content — who needs to eat when you’re full on love, exhilaration and creative inspiration? Unlike any other regimen, it’s fun, too!
Similar to that starry-eyed, brain-tingling effect of falling in lust with a stranger on vacation — known to wear off as soon as both parties wake up from the wild daydream — hunger, and perhaps safer habits, always returns. Still, many Burners like me enjoy riding the wave of feel-good vibes accompanied by fewer cravings for weeks afterward.
It’s good timing for those of us in Aspen: September, October and the first few weeks of November comprise a time of swift change. The Harvest Moon rose high in the sky Sept. 24, signaling the close of a vibrant, bountiful growing season in the Roaring Fork Valley. Paonia welcomes Mountain Harvest Festival this weekend, Sept. 27 to 30. The Aspen Saturday Market ends Oct. 6. Current conversations around town smack of déjà vu: aspen leaves are turning gold to brown far too fast, many restaurants have already face-planted into offseason hibernation and holy cow, it got cold (at night) fast!
Since autumn in Aspen is prime time to regroup, refocus and reset, I’m exploring simple ways to enhance health and well-being and stoke an appetite for winter 2018-19:
Though it sounds better suited to springtime, thinning out pantry items now makes space for fresh stock, which is wise no matter the time of year. First I clear ingredients that have sat neglected too long: a jar of fancy lemon curd that expired in June 2016 and a gifted bottle of saccharine barbecue sauce. Then, I take inventory. Winter is time to make sauces and soups, so I add to my grocery list: aromatics such as garlic, onions, and shallots; canned items including tomatoes and coconut milk; and flavor enhancers à la anchovy paste and olives. I check levels of oils, spices and basic baking supplies (flours, sweeteners, leaveners), and make it a point to purchase cold-weather bulk foods like oats, nuts, and lentils on my next downvalley supermarket run.
Concurrent to the task above, I edit my recipe binder to discard long-ignored printouts and magazine pages. I earmark recipes in favorite cookbooks and reserve recent releases from the library as a means to test-drive new ideas. Goal: less visual clutter and updated signature dishes.
FIRE UP THE OVEN!
I don’t cook much in summertime, for all obvious reasons (too hot, too busy having fun outdoors, too many social functions with food included). But when temps drop and skies turn dreary, I embrace kitchen adventures. I’m roasting nuts while I write this, which fills my kitchen with a toasty, cozy aroma and warms my tiny, chilly apartment by at least a few degrees. Abundant right now, root vegetables are excellent when prepared using this easy method that concentrates natural sugars to deliver max flavor and turns texture toothsome, without much hands-on work. Boom, roast it.
TAKE A BOOZE BREAK
Nothing screams “Aspen problem” louder than binge drinking at a deserted bar. An offseason detox is standard self-care in a mountain town, to take a pause in advance of raucous winter holidays. Besides, our next big bash is about a month out—got a Halloween costume ready?
CRUSH A FITNESS CHALLENGE
Certain yoga and wellness studios offer offseason deals to help locals sweat out summer toxins and get shredded for ski season—ask around! Personally, 30 yoga classes in 30 days (to receive a year of complimentary classes) is a daunting though enticing goal that will also help smash daylight-savings doldrums. Call it insurance for the main event: earning that elusive 100-day pin!
CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY…OVER FOOD
Offseason training is a surefire way to spark an appetite, just in time to participate in a slew of annual gatherings that double as charity fundraisers. A few to note:
• Fiesta de Tamales, to benefit English in Action, at Eagle Crest Nursery in El Jebel on Oct. 6.
• A benefit dinner for Jaywalker Lodge at the Cooking School of Aspen led by Rustique Bistro chef Christopher Randall with other area chefs in October or early November.
• The Taste of Basalt (Basalt Education Foundation) on Nov. 3; tickets on sale Sept. 28.
• The Farm Collaborate (formerly Aspen TREE) 11th Annual Farm-to-Table Free Community Meal at the Hotel Jerome on Nov. 20.
• The John Bemis Community Potluck Dinner (for the Snowmass Rotary Club, Snowmass Chapel and town of Snowmass) at the Westin Snowmass Resort around Thanksgiving.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.