Aspen Princess: A farm to table anniversary feast
I seriously thought Ryan was going to have an orgasm over the giant plate of ribs he ordered at Fresh & Wyld in Paonia last Friday night.
“Oh my God, these are seriously the best ribs I have ever had in my entire life,” he said, licking the sauce from his fingers. “This sauce is seriously amazing. Want to try a bite?”
He gestured at me with the giant bone like a caveman. I had ordered the wrong thing, which I often do, on account of trying to be healthy.
I’d never been to Paonia before and was saving for a special occasion. I know more than a few Aspenites who decided to throw in the towel on five-star ski-resort life to move up to Paonia and create a life for themselves that revolves around this idyllic and verdant mountain valley where things grow and people make their own wine and grow super-intense weed. I knew there were wineries there and apple orchards and peaches and corn and hippies.
Ditching Aspen for a quieter life was what Dava Parr did when she left working as a chef at several of Aspen’s top restaurants and opened Fresh & Wyld, a bed-and-breakfast that offers farm-to-table dinners, cooking classes and private events. Parr is originally from Northern California and is exactly how you might imagine a California girl turned chef turned organic farmer and innkeeper. She wears her blond hair in a long, loose braid that drapes down her back and has a wide smile that punctuates her makeup-free face. She is one of those people who probably look exactly the same now as they did when they were kids, with the kind of features that just stay in place. Wholesome, you might say.
It seemed like the perfect place for our fourth wedding anniversary, a quick little getaway to a place that’s close but yet so far away, and a trip that revolved around food appealed to my pregnant-lady sensibilities. So off to Paonia we went, and the farmhouse did not disappoint. Built in 1908, it had the kind of quaint you don’t often find outside Vermont. When you grow up in New England, everything else feels like it’s trying too hard, at least anywhere west of, say, Europe. And while Colorado has its fair share of old, even the most beautiful Victorians always have an air of grit, of a time when men were soot-covered and a bit rough around the edges and the women probably fended for themselves, preferring to avoid the men for the most part.
But this place had it — the quaint with a capital Q, a beautifully restored purple farmhouse with floors that creak and rooms that feel slightly off-kilter. Surrounded by gardens and green pastures, there’s a bubbling brook and yoga yurt and a giant tree in the front yard with a trunk way too big to wrap your arms around. A dozen painted tiles next to the front door comprised the check-in, with our names and room assignments scribbled in black pen, no need for keys. A giant German shepherd lounged on the wicker couch outside on the terrace, totally disinterested in the guests as they walked by, hauntingly aloof just like our beloved George, who passed away almost a year ago. It was hard to look at him without getting choked up. He had all the same German shepherd traits: a hitch in his back leg, intelligent close-set eyes and an air of superiority that comes with a dog who is more intelligent than most humans.
The farm-to-table dinner was the real purpose for the trip. Ryan and I have watched enough cooking shows on Food Network to know how to geek out like full-fledged foodie wannabes. We love to cook primarily because we love to eat, but it also goes deeper than that. More likely than not, it stems from our respective Jewish and Italian backgrounds; two ethnic groups whose culture revolves primarily around family and food. I knew I’d met the right guy when I’d met his parents for the first time and they started talking about what we were going to eat for dinner as soon as we’d finished lunch.
“Oh my God,” I said after diving into the ribs. “What is that? I think I taste curry — and something sweet, either peaches or apples. And there’s a slow heat that hits you in the back, so it’s probably either cayenne or some kind of hot chili pepper.”
Ryan nodded, his eyes a bit wild and fiendish like he’d just done a line of cocaine.
We asked our waitress (who also is the on-site yoga instructor, massage therapist and aesthetician), and she got us the recipe, scribbled on a Post-it note.
“Yes, there is curry! And peaches and paprika and mixed roasted chili peppers!” I was very proud of myself. I felt like I do when I go to an art exhibit and have a reaction to a piece and then read a description that summarizes my feelings exactly. Like, I so totally get it.
We ate fresh corn on the cob with chili rub and lime, caramelized apple with homemade vanilla ice cream, ratatouille and braised greens made from fresh veggies out of the garden. I’m not sure how sustainable or local Ryan’s bacon mac and cheese was, but it sure tasted good. I regretted that I chose the jumbo shrimp over the roasted chicken with jalapeno basil aioli and didn’t get the garlic mashers that the women at the table next to us were gushing over.
“Who orders a shrimp dish when you’re in the middle of the farmland?” Ryan asked. “I need to keep a closer eye on you next time.”
And with that, our fourth wedding anniversary: a vow to never let me order poorly again. And with that, I thee fed.
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