Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate | AspenTimes.com
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Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

“I’m sorry – we are out of momos,” our waiter said, his young eyes filled with a mixture of fear and bewilderment, like a young duck about to drown.

“What? No! No, you have to have momos! You just have to!” I put my face in my hands as the waiter stood there looking helpless, cradling a pitcher of ice water like a baby.

Momos are Nepalese dumplings that have been on the menu at the Pine Creek Cookhouse for as long as I’ve lived here, and we are obsessed with them. We have even tried to make them ourselves, finding these elusive recipes online that say things like, “Tibetan women don’t measure. They just mix flour and water until they get the right consistency.” And let me be the first to tell you the ingredients aren’t exactly the kind of thing you can just go pick up at City Market. We’d just made a batch for a Christmas Eve potluck at Aunt Kathi’s house, so I was really looking forward to trying the real thing. I was going to take photos and everything.

“Are you sure that there isn’t even one single momo left? Because if there is, that’s OK,” I demanded. “We’ll take an order with just one.”

The kid shrugged and looked at me helplessly, like I’d just sprung a pop quiz and he hadn’t studied. “Can I get you something else? Another appetizer or a cup of soup?”

I was banging my head on the table, so Ryan answered for me.

“Sure,” he said. “Bring over a menu.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Ryan said, pushing his lower lip out. See, I married the right man. He totally understands my pain.

The Pine Creek Cookhouse is hands-down one of my favorite places in the valley. It is where we got engaged and where we go every year on New Year’s Day to celebrate the anniversary of the day we met in 2008. Since then, I’ve learned a little secret. New Year’s Eve is all hype. New Year’s Day is so totally underrated.

I love the whole Ashcroft scene, the little cross-country ski area, the groomed trails, the bubbling brook and those majestic rocky peaks that, if you don’t go up that valley often, you sometimes forget are there. I love the way the top of the valley opens up and spills into wide, open alpine meadows set against a backdrop of mountains so pristine they look fake, like one of those posterboard things they have at carnivals where there’s a hole to stick your head through for a photo.

When we pulled up on New Year’s Day, the parking lot was full. On the ski in, we must have passed two dozen tourists who clearly had no idea how to cross-country ski. Every time we came to a steep uphill, they’d all start sliding backward and knocking one another down until they finally just gave up, took their skis off and walked up. It was when I saw them just tip over on the flats that I began to realize they were already half drunk.

It was also at that point that I realized we had entered the tourist zone, which seemed even more foreign than it normally does now that we live in our little red canyon and only come out when we need to refill our bulk supply of quinoa and goji berries at Whole Foods.

So I had sort of forgotten that these people come from other places, from lower elevations, from a place of privilege where they expect to be handed what they want when they want.

We were seated next to a huge table of them, a crew of cookie-cutter, Abercrombie-model-esque 20-somethings whose parents were even drunker than they were. I could overhear them bitching about how hard it was to get there, how it took too long to get their drinks and how the food was taking forever.

“Y’all, I can’t believe you have to ski uphill to get here, and now I have to go to the bar and get my own drinks?”

That’s when I looked out the window and let the inside out and took the outside in. It has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, I thought. I thought about how I love to linger over a long meal like Europeans do, and why would you want to be rushed in and rushed out when half of the experience is being tucked away in this beautiful backcountry lodge?

We ended up trying the smoked-trout appetizer, which was delicate and rich and delicious. I had my usual quail salad, which is the perfect blend of crisp greens, candied pistachios, cranberries and blue cheese. Ryan’s bison melt was served open-faced on toast with an organic egg on top that was poached to perfection with a velvety texture that elevated this lean meat to something much more succulent.

The manager came by and thanked us for being so patient. He chatted us up like we were special and gave us dessert drinks and treated us like we were the VIPs, not the table of 50 who probably didn’t bat an eye over spending 10 grand for lunch.

We were the last ones to leave, savoring our ski down by taking the longest run we could find even though it meant having to climb uphill. I thought of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, skiing together in the Alps in the 1920s, thinking we were just like them, sporty and red-cheeked and mastering the art of hedonism in a place where pleasure is what you get for lunch.

Flying down that trail with the wind in my face and good food in my belly with my true love by my side, I knew I couldn’t find a better place to start the new year – even without my beloved momos.


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