Aspen Princess: A big helping of family is good for the heart |

Aspen Princess: A big helping of family is good for the heart

A glass sits on the kitchen counter of the six-bedroom home Ryan’s parents rented outside Park City, Utah filled with a grayish meat substance that looks something like cat food.

“What in the world is that?” I ask Mimi, Ryan’s mom.

She giggles. “Oh, it’s the leftover porchetta. We saved it for Greg and we couldn’t find anything else to put it in. He’ll probably eat it for breakfast.”

Saving leftovers and actually eating them is one of many differences between Ryan’s family and my own. My mom pinches her face at anything that comes out of a crock pot, casserole dish, or deep fryer and refuses to eating anything that’s not grilled or steamed, especially if it has more than one tablespoon of olive oil. I often think my Dad would probably benefit from eating meals with more than one gram of fat, but whenever I suggest this, my mom shrugs and says, “It’s just ingrained,” as if she were talking about a tattoo and not her daily caloric intake.

When the Domenichetti side of Ryan’s family decided to have a big gathering in Utah last week, food was a big part of the festivities. There were Grandma Millie’s raviolis and a beloved appetizer dish they called antipasto that was basically an olive and tomato tapenade but with canned tuna fish. There were giant tins of lasagna, big pots of beef stroganoff, and this appetizer called “patitizza” — which is basically pizza dough that is rolled up with cheese, sauce and meat filling and cut into slices. Then of course there was the porchetta, which is really just pulled pork with Italian seasoning.

The only traditional meal my family ever got was Chinese food on Christmas Eve and the Thanksgiving dinners my mom had catered. There are no old family recipes or dishes that remind me of home, unless you count Peking duck or moo shu pork from Beijing Garden, a restaurant in Farmington, Connecticut. We also don’t have a very big family — everyone is spread out and we hardly see each other or stay in touch. Levi is my parents only grandchild, which is something I try really hard not to feel sad about.

It was very special then, for Levi to be exposed to six of his second cousins. The children of Ryan’s cousins came to Heber City, Utah, from all over the country and as far away as Gisborne, New Zealand, for this gathering.

Greg is Ryan’s cousin who lives in New Zealand with his wife, Nikki, and 12-year-old son, Ben, who also is an only child. Ben is a beautiful surfer boy with olive skin, sun-kissed hair, light green eyes and that accent that could melt butter. I could listen to him talk all day long.

I taught Ben how to snowboard on this trip, though he didn’t need much instruction with his surfing background. I basically taught him how to look at the mountain like a wave, swapping out surf lingo wherever I could, referring to “lefts” and “cutties” and going front side. Within two days he learned to ride, and we were bonded for life. There’s a freedom in snowboarding that’s hard to find anywhere else. It’s not technical like skiing is. Teach a kid to link their turns down a mountain and you’re showing them how to fly.

Ben and Levi quickly became like brothers, like they had known each other all their lives and not just for a few days. Levi also adored his second cousins from Atlanta: Ava, Aerleas and Jones, who also gave him a taste of what having actual siblings might feel like, taking turns with him on the sled and teaching him to make snow angels and just piling on top of each other in the snow the way only young children can.

Then there was Francis, the second cousin from Minneapolis. This super shy, sweet 10-year-old who also is an only child took care of Levi like he was something precious, holding his hand and carrying him in her arms when he needed a lift and speaking to him in a soft, gentle tone. Francis is super quiet and hates it when we smother her with hugs and affection, so of course we do it anyway. On the mountain, though, she was a different person.

We spent two days on the hill; one at Brighton and one at Sundance. Both these mountains are a vestige of the past, old-school ski areas that were never developed into full scale resorts. Brighton’s tiny base area is dwarfed by the big mountain backcountry that can be easily accessed from its old lifts, also offering big features inbounds like the cliff bands off Milly’s and endless lines through the trees. Sundance has a vintage feel, with those old-school chairlifts that have three stops, trails that cross the road and runs that lead to back side where there are other chairlifts that feel totally removed from the world. It also happens to be one of the most scenic, most pristine ski areas I’ve ever seen. Lift tickets at both these places was around 80 bucks — approximately half of what you’d pay to ski nearby Deer Valley (which still doesn’t allow snowboarding, lame) and Park City.

It turned out Mimi was right — Greg did eat the leftover porchetta, but he didn’t wait until morning. The glass was empty before he went to bed. For Greg, and everyone else who grew up at Domenichetti gatherings back in the lakeside cabin in Northern Minnesota, a large helping of porchetta (that’s really just shredded pork) is part of coming home.

Watching Levi play with his second cousins as the sun went down behind the Wasatch Range painting the sky in a rose-tinted glow and forming relationships sealed with that familial bond made me realize it’s not just our stomachs that were full. We also filled our hearts with what matters most — family.

The Princess is eating vegan this week. Email your love to

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