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Foodstuff: Morbid meals and a palate cleanser

If we must go out — and we really all must at some point — why not do it with gastronomical gusto?

Getting the shot of some soy-yuzu tuna nachos at Izakaya Carbondale on June 14 for the "flavor beyond words" column. Credit: Annie Bricker
Annie Bricker

Here’s a fun icebreaker, and, also, a morbid one: Ask your friends and family what they’d order for their last meal.

Often enough, I’ve found that people respond with comfort food — warm memories to tuck them into bed before the Big Sleep. At the doorstep of death, the living tell me they would want to order a plate of mom’s spaghetti.

If I know with absolute certainty that the end of my life is imminent (say, within an hour or two) and that neither negotiation nor dissent will extend my expiration date, I would like to taste for myself the flavors of poisonous mushrooms.



I want to eat the forbidden fungi — laced into a cream sauce that blankets a bird’s nest of fettuccini, preferably. Followed, perhaps, by pavlova with more perilous fruits where the strawberries and blueberries usually reside.

And if I am going to dine on fatal foods, I should like to have enough time to savor the experience without symptoms before I go kaput. The ingredients cannot be so immediately poisonous as to send me six feet under prematurely or to temper whatever flavors I might otherwise savor by prompting a bout of gastrointestinal distress.




An hour with a notepad would be enough, at least, to pontificate on phalloides before I perish; I do not wish for a decadent demise so much as decadence immediately preceding death.

If we must go out — and we really all must at some point — why not do it with gastronomical gusto?

I thought I might do as much (exit with gusto, that is, not eat poison mushrooms) in this column, my final Foodstuff for the foreseeable future. At this point, though, some 18 hours past the ETA I promised my editor, I think I’m better equipped to brew a sentimental stew than smear the page in a sriracha of hot takes.

This assignment has lasted far longer and far shorter than I expected: When I declared an acorn squash agenda in my November 2021 debut, I was writing with the assumption that my tenure as the Weekly’s food columnist might last a month or two, just until the paper found a contributor to fill the slot long-term.

A month or two passed. I kept writing. The short-term assignment became a permanent one that I thought I might be lucky enough to earn 20 years into my career.

Throughout a fall and winter that brought changes to nearly every aspect of my life, this space to wax nostalgic about cookbooks and share exquisite meals with dear friends and delight in the divinities of the dinner table became one of the great joys and special treats of my time at the Times.

Crispy chicken sandwiches at White House Tavern in Aspen for lunch and a column idea that never quite manifested on July 10, 2022. (Credit: Alex Hager)
Alex Hager

That time is also ending, both sooner and later than I thought it might. A few months in, still knowing only a few people and missing home but loving the job, I figured I could give it a year. A year in, completely enamored with my life and the people in it, as well as my gainful employment, I thought I might relish the richness forever. The “Foodstuff” assignment arrived about then, a dessert that I often viewed as a special treat at the end of a long week.

Then, around December or January, I realized I had devoured this lifestyle with the same nauseating overindulgence that has led me to overdose on cheese at least twice in my life. (I am not convinced I’ve learned my lesson.) It took a month of hermit habits to come back from the brink, just in the nick of time for a quarter-life crisis and a gale-force gust of personal and professional changes, the latter of which you may be familiar with if you’ve been keeping tabs on the state of our local media landscape lately.  

Turbulence, by way of jostling my insides as it rattled everything around me, changed my appetite — not for Aspen, not for writing and reporting, but for the all-you-can-eat buffet where I kept filling my plate with both business and pleasure well past the point I could digest either.

Which is why I’m untucking the napkin from the collar of my shirt and moving my belt buckle one notch looser for a few weeks of vacation and free agency before I return to Aspen, hungry to report and write and eat in some new capacity that I haven’t completely figured out yet.

Don’t the finest flavors taste even better after a palate cleanser anyway?

Kaya Williams is a former reporter for The Aspen Times and The Snowmass Sun who is overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who has welcomed her to their table or joined her for a meal in the name of journalism over the last nine months. She’s currently savoring the existential digestif of a long vacation at home before returning to Aspen; you can reach her at kaya.noelle.williams@gmail.com

A lunch at High Alpine at Snowmass Ski Area on Feb. 5 for the “familiar flavors, lost and found” column. Credit: Alex Hager
Alex Hager

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