This story was a morning gathering featured in our Summer ’17 issue, “Salt.” For more personal essays about food, and creative seasonal recipes, pick up a copy of our beautiful, book-quality print magazine.
8,750 feet up, I live in heaven on earth, otherwise known as Telluride, Colorado. Perched high in the Rocky Mountains, Telluride is a little mountain town and a big destination for skiing. People say you come for the winter and stay for the summer, or at least that’s how it happened for me.
I first came to Telluride in 2003 for a ski vacation from my then home in California. I still remember the first night I spent here. I knew that night that I was going to live here someday. Ten years later my family and I finally made the move, trading in the crush of Orange County for a town where the the closest traffic light is 45 minutes away. Our new neighbors were the fourteeners, the epic mountains that surround this town, and the highest concentration of 14,000 foot peaks in North America.
It was winter that first drew me into those mountains, and winter lasts a long time here. Ski season goes through March, only closing the first weekend in April. Still, just because the lifts are closed doesn’t mean that there’s no snow. In May it can be snowing and 28 degrees one day and a sunny 65 the next. That first full year, summer, by the time it arrived, nearly caught me off guard.
Summer in the mountains is special because the winter is so long. It’s this block of time —only a few months — that’s magical and colorful. The mountains, locked in snow for so much of the year, open up. The trees bloom and everything turns bright green. It gives us a wealth of opportunity to get outside: mountain biking, hiking, golf, concerts, and festivals every single weekend. Everyone is outside in shorts and T-shirts as soon as it gets above 50 degrees, and everything becomes an outdoor activity. Telluride’s main street feels like one giant block party.
We eat as many meals outside as possible, and that includes breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. One of my favorite places in Telluride is the beautiful Gorrono Ranch. In the winter, it’s a crossroads for skiers and my favorite place for cocktails at the end of the day. We sit outside in a snowy area called the beach, the chairlift running right overhead. In summer, lush and green, it might be even prettier. Hosting a brunch at the ranch for some friends, I want the food to make the most of local Telluride ingredients, to capture the flavor of the mountains during this special season.
We can’t grow much at this high altitude, but the offerings are splendid in high summer when we can find them, and I do mean find them. Wild strawberries grow in the foothills in the grass — literally underfoot — on the same slopes we ski down in winter. They’re the tiniest things, but the biggest burst of flavor. While it’s tempting to bake a cake to show them off, baking in high altitude is always tricky and cakes can be a disaster. Pancakes, however, are a different story, and they’re also one of my favorite things to make with my kids, Lucas (10) and Leela (13), especially in the summer when we can wake up a little later.
To find mushrooms for a frittata, Lucas, Leela, and I take our two rescue dog coonhounds hiking to forage in the woods. Honestly, the kids are better at it than I am. Lucas learned at summer camp when he was six. In August, after a rain, is when the chanterelles really take off. The formula for them to prosper is cool rainy days followed by a few days of sunshine. With that weather pattern, these beautiful yellow mushrooms bloom like flowers. We go out to Lizard Head Pass and walk deep into the pine forest. The trees are enormous and the fallen needles give the woods a beautiful fragrance, earthy and musky. We bring knives to harvest the mushrooms and brushes to clean them, stowing whatever we find in paper bags. While I’m confident in my chanterelle identification ability at this point, I usually still have someone who’s more of an expert go through the rest of our stash.
One of the most special things about living in the mountains is the regular wildlife sightings — it never gets old. We have herds of elk that graze on the valley floor adjacent to the town. They migrate in huge herds, browsing the mountains and valleys. Though we’ve taken to foraging for mushrooms and berries, and I even go pheasant hunting, one aspect of mountain life I haven’t signed on for yet is elk hunting. But since an elk is such a large animal, I have friends who generously share. Elk has a clean and slightly sweet flavor and is a healthy protein source. This lean meat I make into tacos (because nobody ever said that breakfast tacos had to have bacon or egg in them) with sweet potato and zucchini.
Dessert is a Palisade, Colorado, peach pie, made with farmers’ market fruit, lashed with salted caramel. I put it out on the table along with everything else, because you never know who might want to eat dessert first. We put some bluegrass music on, and I put the rest of our foraged berries into a pitcher of margaritas, a boozy addition to a midday meal. All of our friends and family love to get up and dance, especially after a pitcher or two of margaritas. Pancakes and tacos, pie and caramel, margaritas, dancing, and a beautiful day in the mountains; I can think of no better way to celebrate the peak of the season.