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san juan mountains

Traversing the San Juans to bring you the story of local food, season by season.

No. 14

Fall 2013





Where Mediterranean meets the mountains Recommended by Bon Appetit Sunset Magazine The New York Times “Best Food” Award, Taste of Durango


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ii  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

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Natural, Local, Sustainable






| Laura Thomas

| Laura Thomas





| D. Dion

| Rick Scibelli, Jr.

TOUGH LOVE: A "GAME" PLAN | Lauren Slaff


ROOT CELLARS: Your Most Important Prehistoric Appliance | Rachel Turiel


BACK TO OUR ROOTS: "Underground" Recipes | Lauren Slaff




The Hunt To The Table

| Katie Burford




ike no other piece of art I have encountered – not the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, not Hemingway, not The Unforgettable Fire, not even the photographs of Diane Arbus – has something influenced me as much as the syrupy overwrought masterpiece, Bambi. I would go so far as to say that Bambi (I first saw it when I was three) formed the foundation of who it is I have ultimately become (although there is a vague mix of the claymation version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elsa, the lioness from Born Free and Rocky Balboa – the first version – the one who gets his ass kicked but, because of this, gets the girl): A sniveling and snuffling sentimental pacifist who can't manage to kill the ants that are presently marching single file under my desk, past my right foot, towards some crumb I no doubt dropped this morning during one of my several unconscious trips to the kitchen. But I am not the kind of pacifist who denies another’s right to hunt (even if you are the one who killed Bambi's mom). In fact it is the opposite. I, too, want to hunt. Well, I want to want to hunt. The whole idea of it (with the exception of the part where you pull the trigger and the deer dies and the other forest animals comfort each other by singing mournful songs): the stalking, the camping, the bow and the arrow (in my imaginary life as hunter I am a traditionalist.). The whole cycle of life thing. The idea of knowing where my meat came from. The idea that I earned it. The idea that I can thank the animal and God (instead of the cashier) directly for the gift. The elk burgers in summer and the Christmas goose in December – it all sounds idyllic and like living fully engaged. As it stands now, right this minute, we are thawing a frozen block of anonymous vacuum-packed grocery store salmon on our counter. Of course it is "wild caught," but not by me or anybody I know. I am not even sure what "wild caught" means. Aren't they all wild in some form or fashion before they are caught? Tomorrow we might have chicken. Free-range hormone-free chicken. I have a suspicion that their definition of "free" and "range" differ from mine and Merriam Webster's. But I don't know and apparently don't want to know. Nonetheless, you raise it, you stalk it, you kill it, you package it. Only then will I eat it. Our managing editor, and real-life cast member of the Little House on the Prairie, and her family have a life quite different. They hunt, they gather, they ferment, they store, they butcher, they brew and yes, they live right in town. And she often writes about it either here or on her popular blog. This issue, Rachel tackles home butchering. Now that you have shot it what then do you do? Rachel will demystify the process. She also talks about root cellars and roots in another story – yet another food item that I myself seem to be happy to numbly harvest from the far right aisle of the local supermarket. Durango chef, Lauren Slaff will also help. You see, elk or deer – or really any animal – have premium cuts and then not-so-premium cuts. The not-so-premium cuts make up a majority of the haul. But 2  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

there are tricks and solutions. And Chef Slaff will also give you some ideas for those root vegetables that, we trust after reading this issue, you have stored in a cool place in anticipation of tasting the memory of September in the reality of January. So yes, Bambi warped me. Somehow my genetic makeup was permanently altered as if by radiation – but by Disney. The ants at my feet are singing a song that only they can hear. A marching song. And right now a frozen chunk of anonymous salmon thaws on the countertop.

Rick Scibelli, Jr.


san juan mountains EDITOR AND PUBLISHER Rick Scibelli, Jr.


COPY EDITOR Chris Brussat

STAFF WRITERS Lauren Slaff Katie Burford Laura Thomas Jess Kelley



INTERESTED IN ADVERTISING? edible San Juan Mountains 361 Camino del Rio Suite 127 Durango, CO 81303 To send a letter to the editor, email us at For home delivery of Edible San Juan Mountains, email; the rate is $32 per year. Edible San Juan Mountains is published quarterly by Sunny Boy Publications. All rights reserved. Distribution is throughout southwest Colorado and nationally by subscription. No part of this publication may be used without written permission of the publisher. © 2013. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and do notify us. Thank you.

ON THE COVER In 2001, Mark Mitteis, a builder by trade, bought a chunk of land in Cahone, CO. What ensued was a "two-year love affair with the land." Mitteis will tell you he was a little obsessed. "I cleared brush all day and burned it all night." Living off the grid on his own piece of earth was the plan. Farming was not. Then he met Michele Martz. Now SongHaven Farm has a perennial presence at the Cortez Farmer's Market. Under the careful guidance of Martz, the fields are rich with the evidence of their collective effort including carrots, onions, beets and wildflowers. And while Martz tends the fields, Mitteis adds to the installation piece that has become their farm ... which includes structures made from carefully salvaged relics, a self-designed yurt, a sailboat and a pedestrian sky bridge just for the chickens. You will not find a story about SongHaven in this issue. We met Mitteis and Martz while doing a story on Ole Bye. Learn how their lives intersect on page 14. – RS

Photos by the friends and loved ones of Sara Wakefield.



hat I first remember about Sara Wakefield was not exactly Sara. It was the electric smile of her infant daughter, peeking at me from her mother’s sling. And I remember the baby’s incredible blue eyes. I had to meet her. I walked across the Absolute Bakery & Café and sat down next to that baby. Then I saw that the baby’s mother had that same smile, those same eyes. Her name was Sara. She told me she was starting a natural food store, right there in dusty-lonely Mancos. This woman has got some serious guts, I thought, in addition to a bright smile and a ridiculously cute baby. She did start her store, with friend and business partner Meghan Tallmadge. It was 2004. They took the back third of an industrial metal building on Highway 160. They planted vegetables in the gravel-and-weed-strewn yard, and created a space for their babies to play in one corner of the store. Soon, many other babies were playing there, too. Zuma Natural Foods became a community space for a whole cadre of people, some with families and some without, who wanted to do right by the planet and their own bodies. Sara’s connection to local food and local people started far away 4  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

from either of them. As an exchange student in Australia, she saw that pollution from local industry being dumped into the ocean was making surfers ill. She organized a protest. Thousands of people came. “Right then, she knew she could make a difference in the world,” recalls her dad. What drove Sara, from that age onward, was something that few of us are either lucky enough or fearless enough to develop in ourselves: a clear moral code, informed by deep spirituality, and expressed through careful ethics. Sara was an environmentalist. Over and over again, she expressed this conviction through her contributions to local food. And it wasn’t just the store. Sara was constantly organizing potlucks, cooking parties, harvest parties – whatever it took to bring local people and local food together. There came a time when Sara, who had become a single mother, had to say goodbye to the store she founded. She had spent a lot of her younger life living, by choice, on very little income. She had farmed and protested and worked on important causes. Now she needed to

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care for her daughter. I remember one very long, very late conversation around that time. I was more of a witness to her process than a participant in the discussion. Finally, she said, “So, it’s time for me to do this. Yeah, I’m going to earn better money. But I’m also going to do some really great things for this place.” She stood up, with her hands on her hips, and I saw that it was decided. Sara completed a master’s degree in Public Administration through the University of Colorado. Her focus: local government and community development. When she graduated, the Great Recession was bearing down on us all. It took her many months of diligent effort to land a position as the director of The Bridge Emergency Shelter in Cortez. When she told me about the job offer, I asked, “Will you be happy there, since the job is not about the environment?” “But Laura, it is,” she said.

Sara Wakefield. 1977 - 2013

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And for her, it was. Through her work at The Bridge, and later, as the director of Manna Soup Kitchen, she sought to feed and care for local people, using local food. Sara saw justice being done for the larger environment through the mundane and small-scale operations of caring for others. To her, it was exactly like a healed ecology, with all parts of the system receiving and contributing in balance. Sara’s unexpected death, on July 10, leaves a painful gap in the ecology of our local community. In me, it’s left a gnarled ball of anger and bewilderment. It’s a hell of a thing, which will not untangle itself: that we’re meant to keep on saying goodbye to good friends as we age, until it’s our turn to be grieved for. One wants to turn this awful feeling into something useful. So I am cooking. I find I can’t stop. I’ve hosted two dinners so far. I want to feed the people around me like Sara was always doing, and celebrate the difficult and wonderful harvest of our region, with absolute conviction. And serious guts. a

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n a barn outside Ridgway, with the sweet, dusty aroma of dried herbs around us, Sheila Manzagol explains how she “optimizes” the purified water she mixes into all of Shining Mountain’s medicinal herb blends. “I stir to the left until there’s a vortex, and then to the right until it appears again,” she explains. “It changes the water’s structure.” While she does this, she says the words “unconditional love.” “That is the realm where all healing takes place,” she says, barely audible over the monsoonal rain drumming on the roof. I am here to learn about a particular herb: Ligusticum porteri, commonly known as Osha. More specifically, I want to understand how Tim and Sheila Manzagol, the owners and farmers-in-chief of Shining Mountain Herb Farm, have managed to grow the notoriously difficult wild perennial. Osha is native to the San Juans. It is also called “bear root” because the dark, stringy appendages of its root resemble a bear’s claws. In addition, native tribes are said to have observed bears digging and eating the roots after emerging from hibernation. Osha stimulates the respiratory, immune, and digestive systems, all of which might be sluggish after a long winter’s nap. In modern herbology, it is prized for its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, as well as its ability to fight a wide variety of respiratory ailments. Like many alpine perennials, Osha takes several years just to establish itself. In its first year, it grows no more than a few inches tall. While it needs intense high-altitude sun, Osha is a very poor competitor with other plants. In their shade, it shrivels and disappears. Once established, Osha can live for a hundred years. Few specimens in the wild reach that age anymore. United Plant Savers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving North America’s native medicinal plants, lists Osha among our region’s threatened species. This may be because some wildcrafters aim for volume. One Forest Service official recalled a case in which an individual took more than fifteen thousand pounds of Osha from the San Juans in a single year. Wildcrafting Osha is now illegal in much of our region. “The other problem with trying to wildcraft Osha,” notes Sheila, “is that, like many medicinal plants, it has a non-medicinal look-alike. But in the case of Osha, the look-alike is one of the most deadly plants known to humans.” Sheila is referring to Poison Hemlock. So, the Manzagols decided to cultivate Osha themselves. It is hard to overstate the audacity of that decision. University of Maryland botanists tried and failed to develop domestic stands from 2002-2007, recommending that herbalists “support wild stands.” Prominent herbalists Nancy and Michael Phillips claim that Osha is impossible to cultivate. It is unlikely that Tim and Sheila Manzagol were unfamiliar with these professional opinions. As scientists at the apex of their professions, it was their business to know the research. 8  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

Sheila recalls her years as a biologist in the biotech labs at Stanford University, “I was one of the first people to look at the blood of individuals with what would later be called the AIDS virus.” Meanwhile, Tim was a geological engineer, working with the energy industry. If anyone could crack the “code” of Osha cultivation, it might be this pair. As Tim recalls, they wanted to do even better. “We were looking to grow ‘pharmaceutical grade’ Osha, meaning that each crop would have the same potency as the crop before it.” Their small farm in the Uncompaghre River valley outside of Ridgway seemed like the place to do it. Its high altitude and geological diversity leads to a huge variety of soil types within the acreage. “But we were wrong,” Tim says cheerfully. Fluctuations in rainfall, seasonally-revoked irrigation rights, and Osha’s refusal to grow in the merest shadow of a weed were all factors that doomed the Manzagols’ first efforts. There were unanswered questions at every stage: what plant parts yielded the most vigorous offspring? At what time of year was it best to plant and to harvest? Which plant parts should be harvested? And, knowing that Osha has the capacity to be a centenarian, at what age? This litany of unknowns is likely the cause of plant experts’ claims that Osha cannot be cultivated. But Tim and Sheila, in addition to being scientists, are also wine lovers. “I considered the concept of terroir,” says Tim. In the realm of wine, “terroir” encapsulates the particularity of flavor among varietals, harvests, and locations. “It would be terrible if all wine tasted the same. The concept of terroir echoes the principle of biodiversity in nature. Insects and animals, facing the scarcity of one plant in a particular year, might choose another with similarities that offers different nutrition.” Changes in climate year over year, and changes in plants, Tim observes, “are the core drivers of evolutionary change.” The Manzagols wondered if medicinal herbs, just like wine grapes, might have terroir – a set of variable potencies that are specific to their location, climate, and year of harvest. “Nature creates diversity,” says Tim, “so it makes sense to think that diversity in medicinal plants could be positive.” For this reason, the Manzagols grow a wide variety of medicinal plants, in addition to Osha, and diversify their medicinal formulas. Through a potent blend of optimism and determination, they began to have successful Osha crops, tempered by the natural variations that each year’s conditions created. Which brings us, in a roundabout way, back to unconditional love. These words are printed on every label at Shining Mountain Herbs and were also the inspiration for Tim and Sheila’s migration from full-time scientists to experimental cultivators of medicinal herbs. In the late eighties, their infant daughter had a stubborn illness. Their pediatrician proposed dosing her with steroids, indefinitely. “I knew there had to be a better way,” says Sheila. “Eventually that search for a better way led us to where we are now.” And this fall, Sheila plans to sell Osha seedlings so that you and I can grow it too. a

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Aquilino Garcia Lopez

Photo by Joanna B. Pinneo


Mezcal, ski bums, a marriage, a farmer and a plan


| D. Dion

ertain exquisite things only come from special places – you can only get Olathe sweet corn from Olathe, Colorado. True champagne only comes from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. And the finest mezcal only comes from the maguey (agave) plants in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. It was in these mountains that Judah Kuper, a snowboarder from Telluride on a Mexican surf odyssey, discovered that making fine mezcal is as much about the artistry of the thousand-year-old traditional process as it is about the maguey plants. But to be indoctrinated into this process, you have to be a part of the family farms that distill these concoctions. So how did this gringo enter into the family? Just as it is with the making of mezcal, with the harvesting of the plant, the roasting of the agave piña, the natural fermentation of the mash and the protracted distillation, it was a slow process. It all started when Kuper was running a bar in Mexico to finance his surf trip. There, he developed an affinity and a refined palate for mezcal. He also developed an ear infection from surfing, and the nurse who treated him was a beautiful woman named Valentina. To make a long story short, boy met girl, boy fell in love, and boy was forced to ask girl’s tough, gun-owning mezcalero father for her hand in marriage. Luckily, he was offered a shot of mezcal when he first sat down, rather than the other kind of shot he half expected. He survived, 10  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

and got the girl. Not only that, he discovered that this moonshine mezcal was as dazzling and unique as his romance, and as passionately contrived. Valentina’s family had been making mezcal for more generations than they could remember, with the same traditional methods. They pull down the ripe maguey plants from the hills by burro, cut and clean the piña (the “nut” at the center of the plant) by hand, roast it for days in an earthen, in-ground oven, mash the piña with a tahona (cement wheel) pulled by mule, ferment it in pine vats with the wild, naturally occurring spores on their land, and carefully distill it in copper pots. Valentina’s new gringo husband had fallen in love all over again. Kuper was determined to share his discovery with his friends in Colorado, so he began an obsessive quest to find the most exceptional batches to bottle and ship back home. The backwoods palenques needed to be certified, a “Mezcal Vago” brand developed, and all the exporting logistics worked out; a job that was suited to the new English-speaking member of the family. He wanted to let others in on the secret, artisanal way that high-end mezcal is created. “What makes well-made mezcal different is the touch of the maestro … how he cooks his agave – how hot, how many days, the type of wood – how much heat or flame he uses when distilling, when he makes his cuts in the distillation process, and how he achieves his final grade,” says Kuper.


(from the top) Aquilino Garcia Lopez and his son-in-law Judah Kuper go over details on Lopez's Oaxaca farm. An agave field. Aquilino Garcia Lopez and his wife, Epifania Garcia Altamirano. Photos by Joanna B. Pinneo

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Mezcaleros have perfected their trade over time, selecting and harvesting from the 230 varieties of maguey plants in Oaxaca that result in distinct yet subtle aromas and tastes. “The different varietals have radically different flavors,” says Kuper. “Mezcal is created in a traditional manner on farms, not in labs, yet somehow is such an elegant spirit. The variety of flavors available between regions, maestros and agave types is unmatched aside from maybe wine and scotch.” Most people take their first – and often their last – sip of mezcal from one of those cheap bottles with the signature worm at the bottom that somebody brought back as a souvenir from Tijuana. Mezcal long had a reputation in the US as a bastardized version of tequila, but tequila is actually just one type of mezcal, made only from the blue agave. Cheap mezcal tastes a bit like kerosene; it is massproduced more quickly by separating the agave sugars from the mash and adding chemicals like urea and ammonium sulfate to speed the fermentation. But like fast food and slow homecooking might both be called “food,” the two are nothing alike. Cheap mezcal and fine mezcal are also utterly different. And today, well-made mezcal is making its mark on the high-end liquor industry as the newest fad, and one of the oldest spirits. In ancient times, Aztecs revered the agave plant and believed the fermented mash (called pulque then, or mosto today) had medicinal and spiritual value, exorcising evil spirits from the body. Most historians believe that native Mexicans were only able to ferment the mescal, and that they learned to distill it from Spanish conquistadors. But archaeologists are uncovering ruins in Colima and Oaxaca that far precede the Spanish invasion, and the stills they unearthed are identical to those employed today by one of Kuper’s producers, who uses clay pots, an adobe oven, bamboo, and banana leaves, all of which were available in the pre-Columbian era. “The jury is still out,” says Kuper, “but it’s an interesting investigation. With the recent discoveries pointing in the direction of mezcal being distilled for potentially thousands of years, it is – in my opinion – the most important distillate in the Americas.” Keeping these antiquated distilleries operating is not just important because of the cultural significance, it is also meaningful for the families and their heritage. Branding and exporting the spirit is helping to keep the mezcal traditions alive, and sparking interest among the younger generations. The hope of making money could lure Kuper’s brother-in-law back from his work illegally picking fruit in the US, and bring him home to learn his father’s craft. His father has already earned twice what he made last year, just since the launch of Mezcal Vago. When asked what Mezcal Vago has done for him, Kuper’s fatherin-law shrugs his shoulders and says he was able to generate some income and buy some things for his family. But he seems oblivious to the buzz his mezcal is creating in Mexico and the US, and it hasn’t changed his simple way of life on the palenque. Kuper says that is the way it is for all the great mezcaleros. “The best mezcal comes from the most humble producers. They just take life as it comes.” a





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Ole Bye and his business and traveling partner, Maddy, make their way towards Durango on a Wednesday delivery run.

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t is a typical day at Roundup Corner (also known as Dawson Lake Store or Cox’s Conoco ... depending on what sign you choose to read) in Lewis, Colorado. In the dusty pock-marked triangle formed by US 491 and Highway 184, there are the usual sights: the vacationer adjusting two matching ATVs in the back of his tricked-out pickup; the Kenworth with a load of scrap metal and the hood up, parked off to the side idling with the sound of marbles on metal; the well-pressed Budweiser guy with the delivery truck the length of a swimming pool, shiny, quiet and functional. And there is the tourist filling his Camry, adjusting his jean shorts up over his paunch, suspiciously scanning his surroundings. In the middle of it all is a weathered Ford F350 box truck, covered with white house paint to conceal the prior life it had as a U-Haul. In the back, by the salvaged cargo box door, waits Ole Bye. His diesel tank is full and now all he needs is two pounds of microgreens, five pounds of kale and a pound of cilantro and he will be on his way. Here is the universal conundrum facing the local food movement: Just how do you get the farmer’s bounty to the chef’s table when the farmer is overwhelmed with growing food and the chef is swamped with cooking it? Enter Ole Bye and his refrigerated overhauled U-Haul. “I saw a need and filled that need,” Bye says of Local Food Logic, his delivery business that brings food from the farms to the buyers. Two days a week, Bye, a part-time bike mechanic and a struggling artist, is on the road between Telluride, Cortez and Durango. On Mondays and Wednesdays he drives in excess of 350 miles in his re-appropriated three-speed diesel. The engine literally roars at highway speed as if begging the driver for just one more gear (and before you ask, yes, biodiesel is part of the grand plan). The refrigerated truck has no air conditioning. So, while Bye sweats and his dog, Maddy, pants madly (“a West Virginia Retriever” aka rescued curly looking thing), the carrots remain cool as the cucumbers. “I would offer to play a CD, but we wouldn’t be able to hear it,” Bye says, his voice raised to overcome the turbulent weather pattern created by the 1990 Ford’s wide-open windows. At this moment, it is better than air conditioning in some inexplicable way. Here’s how it works: Monday is office day for Ole Bye. This means he contacts all the clients currently working with him – farmers and restaurateurs and grocers ... as if there couldn’t be a more disparate group. He sits in his rented guest house near Dolores, Colorado, not far from his bed and around the corner from his kitchen, in front of his computer working the phone (a flip phone he paid 20 bucks for five years ago. “Baby steps,” Bye says). Right now, Telluride restaurants are his main


Ole Bye waits for a delivery from SongHaven Farm at their official rendezvous point, Cox's Corner Store.

customers (Bye has his theories as to why: it is isolated and has a need). If everything goes according to plan, farmers upload their inventory lists to his website, essentially saying to the virtual market “here is what we have.” “Then I start calling chefs,” Bye says. This requires patience. It is like juggling, but with people. It requires leaving a lot of voicemails for a lot of chefs. “Chefs don’t tend to answer their phones,” Bye says. Ironically, farmers do. While new software has been helping in his second year, it is still a Rubik’s Cube to be solved at the beginning of every week. While Bye will pick up almost anything, he tries to make it economically viable for all parties involved. “I don’t say no to anybody.” A single pound of Napa cabbage can make the cut. So can microgreens by the ounce (some restaurants order two ounces at a time). On the other end of the spectrum, Bye can be delivering whole lambs or up to 100 pounds of fresh produce to one client. Drop off points help tremendously. Like Roundup Corner where Michele

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Martz and her husband, Mark Mitteis, of SongHaven Farm in Cahone rendezvous with Bye on a weekly basis. Today the farmers are running a little behind. “Scheduling people is one of my challenges. It feels like I have a business with 20 employees, none of which I have any control over and none of which are actually employed by me or anybody. There is a lot of love needed to keep everything together,” Bye says. “I am dealing with very independent people.” But the love is not lost on anybody. “He is awesome,” Rosie Carter of Stone Free Farm says. “He has expanded our sales and brought us into the Telluride Market.” And it is a seemingly ideal system. Bye is the conduit. A mobile market. Farmers hand him the pre-arranged order, Bye delivers it to the waiting chef where he picks up a check that is then handed over to the farmer at the next exchange. Bye makes his cut with a 20 percent delivery charge. “Chefs have been happy with the prices,” Bye says. Pickups can have the feeling of a made-for-movie drug deal. There is the

nondescript box truck sitting alone in a parking lot at some remote location, a lanky 32-year-old standing outside with an unruly frock of curly sun-baked hair checking his watch. A Subaru pulls up. The booty is transferred (microgreens and cilantro in this case). Pleasantries are exchanged. Everybody moves on happier. Deliveries can have a different feel altogether. Bye has a philosophy of dressing for success. “I wear dress shoes and a collared shirt (untucked) when I deliver in Telluride.” He calls it business casual. “I would like to have a uniform shirt someday.” He is first to admit, though, that he would probably sell more if he dressed in “a straw hat and overalls.” Next stop is Four Corners Nursery for a pick up. The next, Southwest Memorial for a drop off. The next? Vicky Paxton, who is babysitting her grandchildren, to pick up 20 dozen eggs for P & D Grocery in Mancos. “He has gotten me more egg customers for sure,” Paxton says. There are stops at Dave Banga’s Mancos farm, where Bye maintains a walkin cooler plugged in not far from the dirt road; a delivery to the new El Moro in Durango; another to the Travelers World Café’s Airstream on College Avenue; and then a stop at the gas station, Hesperus Oasis, off 160 to meet up with Denise Stovall of LB Brands to pick up two pounds of ground goat and three pounds of pork sausage. There is also an exchange of a frozen pig head that was a non-commercial side deal between friends – details of which were only privy to the parties involved, except the pig. At this point, as is often the case, Bye is a little behind schedule. “It is kind of challenging to work with your friends and maintain a schedule.”

Bye says he is in this for the long haul. First on his list of capital improvements are plastic bins for all his farms. Then maybe a hand truck (he carries everything via his back muscles). Then an iPhone. “We are pretty much in the beginning stages of an effective local food system,” Bye says. “It’s going to take time. But there are enough people behind it. I just have to be patient.” And for a guy who spent more than a year trying to make a living selling his miniature landscapes that he created entirely in the confines of bottles (think ship in a bottle, but instead, a whole intricate landscape including trees, hills, houses, bridges, etc.), patience just might be on his side. “It is safe to say I have never had a career,” Bye, who studied photography in college, confesses. “This is the most meaningful thing I have ever done in my life.” a

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THE HUNT TO THE TABLE DIY home butchering | Rachel Turiel


t was 1999; before cell phones, before e-mail was something you checked more often than you showered. A blog was slang for the blood left on a log after draping a fresh, ropy tenderloin on it. We were clumsy carnivores, still peeling off the last layers of 1990s-era vegetarianism when my husband announced he wanted to start hunting. During that first hunt, I stayed in town trolling the local bookstores for a butchering manual – one that explained where the brisket resided, how to remove it from the animal, and how to cook that particular hunk of meat. I bought Saran wrap and butcher paper, and stared up at the mountain yin yang of dark spruce/yellow aspen, my mind like a ball of yarn in the wind unraveling endless questions.  After upsetting an employee at Gardenswartz Sporting Goods by naively asking if the prized and tender elk backstraps would be good for stewing, I returned to four bloodstained game bags deposited into our freezer. There was a cryptic note reporting that the cow elk my husband shot should be “pretty good eating” and that he was back in the woods helping his buddy Dave get an elk. The stories lodged in those two sentences nagged at me for the next three days until the hunters returned, blood dried in the cracks of their hands. That first elk, which turned out to be very good eating, was fourteen years and twice as many animals ago. These days, any animal under our sharpened knives is cause for celebration. We clear

our weekend calendar and gather supplies and friends. The coffee hour easily blurs into the beer hour and we all get a pleasing little bit of butchering carpal-tunnel. While my usual work is herding cats (children) and squeezing words out of a recalcitrant mind, butchering is blissfully straightforward. When you get down to the smooth, white plane of a scapula, you’ve finished a shoulder (front leg). Anything that isn’t pure ruby meat gets sliced away and returned to the woods (or fed to chickens or dogs). Backstraps and tenderloins become steaks, hind legs are roasts and the piece-work of sinewy shoulders goes to the pile to introduce to the meat grinder. When you shut the freezer door on a deep well of white packages, you are done. Bring on winter. There are many competent meat processors who will turn your animal into tidy, ready-to-eat packages. For approximately 85 cents per pound, you can keep your hands and kitchen clean of blood and preserve your weekend. But what do you miss? Matt Clark, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited, who lives outside of Mancos, says that butchering the elk and deer he hunts offers a sense of completion and satisfaction to the whole cycle. And the weekend-long work that tastes like celebration doesn’t hurt. “We play lots music, body parts all over the counter; everyone helps,” says Julie Ott, who butchers elk, hogs and chickens with her family. Emily Reynolds, who processes the chickens she raises in Bay-


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18  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

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field, says about killing and preparing her own birds for eating: “It’s my personal time to thank them for giving their life to us. Plus, it’s so easy,” she adds. The work of home butchering, like many DIY projects, is a learn-as-you-go process, both forgiving and self correcting. If you’re chewing and chewing and still chewing a steak, it’s probably actually a roast, which requires a long cook on low heat. If your burger is threaded with silvery tendon that you feel compelled to spit surreptitiously into a napkin, someone needs to retake the class Meticulous Trimming 101. Everyone agrees on a few salient points. How the animal is treated after the kill (get that meat cooling; remove entrails with the precision of a surgeon, keeping bladders, intestines and other “loaded” viscera away from meat) is a large predictor of future culinary success. An ultra sharp knife is imperative (spending $3 on professional knife sharpening is the best $3 you’ve ever spent). When slicing steaks, cut against the grain for maximum tenderness. Remove all dirt, spruce needles and hair from the surface of the meat. Mind your colors: trim the white (fat) and silver (connective tissue), preserve the red (muscle). Keep your work space cleaner than clean.

Photos by Hinds-Turiel family

Beyond these rules, meat processors follow their own individual tributaries to the ocean of good eating. The Otts, a ranching family living in the Animas Valley, turn most of an elk into sausage, with four different flavor profiles. The blend is 60% elk, 30% pork, 10% pork fat. And these amounts are not approximate. David Lyen, retired hard rock miner living in Cortez who has hunted since he was fourteen (a mere 55 years ago), puts half his elk to hamburger, which stands pure. “I’m not going to contaminate my good wild meat with some cow fat,” Lyen says. Because elk and deer are naturally lean, for most people adding fat to burger enhances flavor and sizzle factor. (We’re partial to sausage with James Ranch pork fat and a lively spice mix.) And where a juicy roast is part of our every holiday meal, grind (sausage/burger) is essentially a “thaw and there’s dinner” option, which smoothes out the wrinkles of a busy weekday night. For some hunters, aging their meat is the holy grail of grass-fed meat (grass-fed meaning every succulent green plant an ungulate can get its mouth on). David Lyen asserts that hanging elk and deer creates wild meat more succulent “than a New York steak.” While some of us (read: our family) see the hind legs of an elk or deer as a series of


Rose Hinds labels packages of elk meat.

roasts, tenderness unlocked by the cooking tempo of slow and low, David Lyen sees properly-aged hind legs as steaks waiting for the sizzle of the grill. Matt Clark concurs. “I can cut almost any roast out of an elk [that has been hanged] and it’s nearly as tender as a tenderloin.” Clark hangs his elk and deer in a friend’s meat locker (at 39F) for 2-3 weeks, until “there’s a polka dot-like bloom of mold on the surface of the meat.” (This you cut off completely; though if you hang with the hide on, the spoiling takes place within the hide, which you simply strip off, losing less meat). Clark explains that the enzymes naturally present in the animal begin breaking down the muscle, effectively tenderizing it. Aging meat was once a standard practice in the beef industry. Now that most cattle are corn-fed and raised in crowded feed lots (less movement = more tender meat) coupled with the American belief that food should be cheap (hanging = time, time = money), this practice is mostly obsolete. Clark adds, “Hanging meat also improves the flavor, toning down what people consider the gamey taste of wild meat.” Alternatively, a wise wild game chef can “age” a cut of meat in the fridge for several days after defrosting, or in a long marinade which tenderizes and flavors the meat. David Lyen hangs his meat for a minimum of fourteen days in his root cellar turned “meat house” at 50F. “The meat does not spoil,” he says, though he does keep watch for hatches of maggot eggs laid by flies out in the field.

20  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

Col Hinds gets a lesson in butchering and safe knife handling from his father.

Maggots and spurting entrails and blooms of mold? On the new reality show, You Think You Can Butcher?, the squeamish get eliminated first. Gunther Ott, 20 years old, who grew up raising, killing, butchering and eating farm animals, says this practice has helped him appreciate what it takes to put meat on the table. Incidentally, when he eats out, he chooses vegetarian. For Emily Reynolds, who dispatches approximately fifteen chickens each year, killing and processing her own meat helps her “have a deeper respect and understanding of life, from living and breathing to sharing it at the dinner table with friends.” My own children, who literally cut their teeth on wild meat, know that if we’re lucky, a couple weekends each fall are spent elbow-deep in a carcass. My daughter Rose’s job at 2 years old was to bring cast-off scraps to our chickens (who, despite some impressive 21st-century marketing, are not herbivores. Not even close). And my son Col got more tangible writing practice labeling meat packages one fall than in a year of kindergarten. For us, the whittling of meat off a bone while autumn seasons the air with crispness is as much an annual celebration as any national holiday. This fall, we hope to star in, once again, the Salvador Dali surrealist painting Butchering Family. Here you see whimsical bodies holding knives, beers and enormous mammal haunches. Children come in and out of focus, sometimes helping, sometimes simply absorbing life lessons which will be apparent many years later. Musical notes swirl and bounce. Sweet tender niblets fly off the grill into ready mouths. Everyone is smiling, their hands busy. a


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ost experienced, and even not-so-experienced, game cooks know just what to do with the prized tender loin of elk or venison. We’re talking about the filet mignon of the hunter’s catch, and a well-seasoned simple sear to medium rare produces the tastiest results in no time. Easy, right? Well it’s all the other cuts that take a little savvy to tenderize as well as balance the potentially “gamey” flavor. Typically these tougher cuts are processed into roasts, cubed stew meat or ground like hamburger. Marrying bold flavors and contrasting “sweet” elements, then cooking “low-and-slow” is an approachable blanket technique for the roasts and stew meat. These techniques, including braising and stewing (see Braise The Winter Roof , Winter 2011/12), demand the same initial seasoning and sear as their tender cousin the loin – then the cuts are covered for a long simmering bath in flavorful liquid to create that fall-apart tender quality we love. The amount of time will depend on the size of the pieces, but for stew meat cubes I recommend at least two hours stovetop or in a 250-degree oven. The ground meat is, by process, “pre-tenderized” but it also benefits from

INGREDIENTS ½ cup heavy cream 10 ounces pancetta, diced*

the same flavor balancing. However, this product can actually become tough if overcooked and, as far as burgers go, are most succulent at medium-rare like their beef counterpart. Substitute game in your favorite recipes calling for beef and you will be surprised by how easily they interchange. I love making exotically-spiced tagines, rich classic stews, hearty pasta sauces and ragouts. Try this yummy authentic Bolognese recipe with either stew or ground meat, as both textures benefit from this method. Though often we equate classic Bolognese to the common American tomato-centric meat sauce, you will find the ingredients are quite different and result in something far more luscious and with greater depth of flavor. Whether you use stew or the more tenderized ground, this recipe can benefit from a full day of simmering stovetop. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself with unexpected dinner guests! a

Classic Bolognese

1 cup carrots, diced small

Serves 4 (generously)

¾ cup celery, diced small 1 cup onions, diced small ¾ pound ground chuck (elk or venison in our case) ½ pound ground veal (since this recipe uses game meat, you can replace this with ½ pound of ground venison or elk) ½ cup dry white wine 1 tablespoon minced garlic 2 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in 10 tablespoons meat stock 1 cup whole milk Salt and pepper to taste 1. The building of a ragu (or ragout) involves three simple steps: browning the vegetables and meats, reducing flavorful liquids over the browned foods to build up layers of taste, then covering them with more liquid and simmering gently until the flavors blend and the meats are tender. Ragus should be rich without being heavy. An Italian ragu is a meat sauce with tomato, it is not a tomato sauce with meat.

and freshly ground pepper. Sauté the vegetables for about 3 minutes or until they are translucent. 4. In a mixing bowl, combine the meats and season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat under the sauce pot, and stir in the meat. Brown the meat for 5 minutes, or until it is medium brown in color. Stir in the wine, garlic and diluted tomato paste, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Reduce the heat to very low. Cook at a low simmer, partially covered, for at least two hours. From time to time, stir in a tablespoon or so of the milk. By the end of the two hours, all the milk should be incorporated. Stir in the reduced cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. 5. To complete the dish, cook a pound of hearty pasta in well-salted water to al dente. I prefer rigatoni. In true Italian style, add the pasta to the sauce, not vice versa, tossing

2. In a small sauce pot, bring the cream up to a simmer and reduce by 1/3. About 6

and simmering for a couple minutes to incorporate the flavors. Generously heap into

tablespoons of cream should remain.

bowls and smother with grated cheese and dig-in to this stick-to-your-ribs classic.

3. In a large sauce pot, cook the pancetta over medium heat, about 8 minutes, or until

tion of groceries and specialty shops. Unlike American bacon, it is cured, not smoked. If

almost all the fat is rendered. Stir in the carrots, celery, and onions. Season with salt

it is not available to you, substitute cubes of slab bacon.

*Pancetta is basically Italian bacon and is available, cut to order, in the deli sec-

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ROOT CELLARS Your most important prehistoric appliance | Rachel Turiel

A plan for an elaborate kiva-style root cellar (including a ceiling constructed from antlers and juniper) by Dan Hinds. However, no problem, if you have a basement, or a garage, you're golden. No shovel or antlers are necessary.


ast summer, my husband Dan hand-dug a root cellar seven feet straight down in the back corner of our city lot. Though Hallmark instructs that the proper ten-year wedding anniversary present is jewelry, for us it was killer biceps and a place to store fresh apples through April. While Dan read and researched, planned and calculated, delivering elaborate late-night monologs about rock walls and backfill, all I heard was: we’re going to have a place to store winter squash, potatoes, carrots and onions! Each fall, for the past decade, we’d amass tremendous amounts of root vegetables and local fruit like a senile couple who forgot they don’t actually have anywhere to stash all these valuable goods. We’ve crammed as many carrots into the fridge as possible; winter squash went to an unheated mudroom; and apples to a cooler covered with blankets in our shed. During many January thaws, I’ve shuttled sprouting potatoes, like refugees in hiding, from one friend’s basement to another friend’s colder garage. This is why. Root crops are the enduring rock anthems of the vegetable world. They’re a salty-haired Mick Jagger crooning about satisfaction and caloric density. Cucumbers are a side dish; potatoes are what’s for dinner. Tomatoes and basil are the one-hit wonders that you fawn over, dizzily, before they vanish under the hammer’s first tap of October, while the root vegetables meditate peacefully underground, 24  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

wondering what’s all this hoopla over frost. It is this very vegetal nonchalance toward frosts that makes the root vegetable the perfect candidate for long-term storage. These roots are literally and botanically “storage organs,” specifically evolved to store energy in the form of carbohydrates. During adverse periods (excessive cold, lack of light, drought: effectively winter), the above-ground parts of the plant die, while the root goes dormant waiting for the high sign from spring. When conditions become favorable again, re-growth occurs from buds in the storage organs (this is why potatoes begin to sprout in warm weather). After spending months sweating in a steamy kitchen, boiling the bejeezus out of canned jams and salsas, then stuffing green chiles into freezer bags whose very plasticity (think BPA and endocrine disrupters) gives me pause, root vegetables offer redemption. All they need is to be left alone in a dark, cool, ventilated space. If you stock up on storable roots at your local farmers market and give them a proper home, you can shop all winter on your own property, bypassing the fossil fuel economy for one blessed moment. At its core, a root cellar is an underground space in which to store food. Two feet below the surface (here in southern Colorado), the earth becomes impervious to frost. In winter, it’s a cool, stable and well-insulated place boasting naturally-high humidity and winter temperatures typically between 35F and 45F. Which is to say, it very much resembles your refrigerator. And for the thousands of

years between the advent of agriculture and the invention of refrigerators, root cellars were a family’s most important prehistoric appliance. In addition to roots, anything that lasts for many weeks in the refrigerator is a good candidate for long-term subterranean storage. This includes cabbages, apples, pears, Brussels sprouts, and celery. According to Elizabeth Cromley, a professor of architectural history at Northeastern University and author of The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses, more than 400 books instructed 19th-century Americans on how to plan a functional house with outbuildings, larder and basement root cellar. “You’re not going to die if you don’t get a new dress,” Cromley says, “but if you don’t know this, it will kill you.” Indeed. For thousands of years the dividends on the investment in a root cellar were turnip, carrot, and rutabaga soup tasting something like survival while the snow blew deep and sideways. And, although it’s true today that your local grocer stocks shelves of global roots at a reasonable price, it is also true that there are several thousand scientists, economists, agriculturalists and poets who are currently researching projected changes to our planet due to climate change, population growth and the depletion of natural resources. Knowing how to store onions, potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut and a salted ham hock for the long winter may become more than preciously hip DIY homesteader’s knowledge. And then, there’s taste. After eating the last of our sweet, crisp, stored Stone Free Farm carrots in December, we were relegated to California-shipped orange roots, possessing the crunch of waterlogged popcorn and tasting mildly of soapy cardboard. Also, knowing how to store those apples weighing down your neighbor’s tree tastes like hundreds of dollars saved. Through the hot months of summer, Dan dug. Each shovelful of native clay lowered him farther into the earth. “The hole,” as it was fondly named in its early days, was, sans roof, 30 degrees cooler than the outside air, with humidity at 85%. Going down in the hole was like a spa treatment for dwellers of the arid Southwest. As Dan dug, our son, Col, seven at the time, discovered a new purpose in life. He hung around the dig site like a groupie waiting for someone to sign his trowel. He discovered earthworms five feet down, and an asteroid belt of tiny rocks even deeper. After working his own side projects – avalanches, gullies, dams – Col would climb out to play in the huge pile of dirt belched out of the hole as if the earth were turning itself inside out. If you are basement-deprived, or not nutty enough to devote your summer to a dig on par with archaeological excavations, there are nooks and crannies where a five-gallon bucket of potatoes, or a cooler full of crisp apples can be stashed. The key here is to arrest growth – of the roots themselves, and of any microorganisms hitching a ride. For most “storage organs,” the closer the temperature is to 35F, the longer they will last. You can create mini root cellars by sinking containers such as coolers, chest freezers, or trash cans (with lids) underground so that their tops are two feet below the soil surface, backfilling with bales

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of straw for easy access. Apples store very well inside a cooler in a shed, insulated with blankets. If you have an unheated basement or an insulated garage, you are golden. Go to the farmers market and get the best price on 50 pounds of potatoes and carrots and laugh all the way to the bank of your basement. But do check both the temperature of your basement and the condition of your food regularly. Rotting potatoes smell like punishment and spread like a virus. Apples release ethylene gas, which ripens other foods. Because of this, apples should be stored as far as possible from other storage crops. Our root cellar is too small to contain a space “as far away as possible,” but the ethylene problem is solved handily with ventilation. If you can keep a room in your house unheated (mudroom, guest room, man cave), winter squash, onions and garlic, all of which like drier and warmer conditions, can last for many months. These crops can be hung in breathable fabric (pantyhose, mesh, loose-weave hemp) to increase circulation. Stored crops should be free of excessive soil, which harbors microorganisms which want to eat and proliferate. If you wash your storage

crops, be sure to store them dry, except for apples and pears, which will appreciate a sprinkle of water. As you’re dialing in the efficacy of storage methods and location, here are some tips. Do your homework (our favorite books are Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel, and The Complete Root Cellar Book by Maxwell and Mackenzie). Start with just a few beloved crops to store, check on them frequently, make notes detailing what did and didn’t work and, lastly, enjoy. A locally-grown sweet-fleshed buttercup squash in February tastes like something money can’t buy. Turns out, when you have a root cellar, every seed looks like a future candidate for a January meal. It’s no coincidence that this year’s garden contains ample rows of onions, turnips, potatoes, beets and carrots. Like migratory birds, we’ll return to our favorite apple and pear trees in October. We’ll cut a good deal with a local farmer for 50 pounds of potatoes. We’ll fawn over our stacked boxes of stored produce like we just made a deposit in our 401K. I may never get any anniversary diamonds, but getting invited into the hole for an “aged pear” still counts as a hot date around here. a



Apples Beets Cabbage Carrots Garlic Onions Pears Potatoes Winter Squash Turnips

35F-45F/80%-90% 35F-40F/80%-90% 35F-40F/80%-90% 35F-40F/80%-95% 40F-50F/50%-70% 40F-50F/50%-70% 35F-50F/80%-90% 35F-45F/80%-90% 50F-60F/50%-70% 35F-45F/80%-95%

Notes Store in perforated plastic bags sprinkle with water. Last 4-6 months. Pack in moist sand/sawdust. Store in plastic bag, hang from ceiling by roots, place roots in soil. Pack in moist sand/sawdust. Last 4-6 months. Hang or store in ventilated place. Cure in sun before storing. Hang. Store in tight boxes. Sprinkle with water Cure first. Store in burlap, boxes. Last 6 months. Hang in mesh bags or on shelves with ventilation. Pack in sand/sawdust. Last 4-5 months.

General Principles: Choose varieties of vegetables best suited for storage. Harvest in dry, cold weather (roots will be sweeter, plumper and will store longer). Remove soil from crops and store dry. Check crops often for spoilage. Some crops benefit from “curing,” or drying outside where skins can harden before storing (onions, garlic, potatoes, winter squash). Make sure crops are accessible even after the snow falls. Provide ventilation. 26  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013


BACK TO OUR ROOTS "Underground" Recipes | Lauren Slaff


ith the plethora of inventive cuisines and creative concoctions we are exposed to in our current food-centric society, sadly we sometimes overlook the tried and true. Like the root cellar itself, these classic recipes have deliciously withstood the test of time.

Vehement Vichyssoise Serves 6


he origins of this savory soup are a subject of debate among culinary historians. Julia Child called it “an American invention.” A French chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York City is most often credited with its (re)invention during the summer of 1917. He crafted it after the potato leek soups of his childhood, over which he and his brother poured cold milk to enjoy in the hot summer months. The name came from Vichy, a village in France close to his childhood home. Now served as a chilled soup, this delicious recipe is also comforting served piping hot during the chilly months. We recently served it this way at a soup benefit and as it quickly disappeared, a special guest requested a helping to go. He expressed his concern that the heavenly liquid would never make it home, as he didn’t think he had the willpower to resist glugging it right out of the container. It’s that good. Glad to report that it (and he) made it back to his family unconsumed. And there were no “driving while souped” tickets issued.

INGREDIENTS 2 cups potatoes, peeled and finely diced 4 tablespoons butter 6 leeks, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces 3 cups chicken stock 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Dash of fresh ground nutmeg 1½ to 2 cups sour cream or heavy cream Finely chopped chives

1. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough salted water to cover. Cook until just tender (Always start potatoes and water together. Adding them once the water is boiling results in uneven cooking). 2. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the leeks gently, tossing them lightly, for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the leeks until tender. Add the cooked potatoes and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 3. Put this mixture in a blender (you will need to blend it in two batches) and blend for one minute, or until smooth. If you are choosing to serve in the traditional manner, this is the time to chill. Either way, when ready to serve, mix in sour cream or heavy cream. Check for seasoning and add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Garnish with chopped chives. If you really want to garner some well-earned cholesterol points, add a handful of crumbled crispy bacon.

Classic French Onion Soup Serves 6 to 8


nion soups date back to the ancient Greek and Roman times and modern French soup is a descendant of medieval soup recipes. Legend has it that the first French onion soup was developed by King Louis XV of France. He wanted a snack late one evening but had only butter, onions, and champagne in his hunting lodge pantry. Go figure. French onion soup has come a long way since then and “modern” onion soup features rich caramelized onions in beef broth with croutons (“croutes”) and a browned bubbly Gruyere cheese topping. Though time is a major (and mandatory) ingredient in developing the flavors of this loved classic, you won’t believe how quickly these molten cheese-encrusted delights will disappear from your dinner table!

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Place a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Melt butter in pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the butter, then sweat them until translucent. 3. To caramelize the onions, turn up heat to medium high. Add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. This important step should take about 20-30 minutes to achieve critical color and flavor. 4. Once onions are caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add the flour. Brown the flour for a couple minutes being careful not to scorch it.

INGREDIENTS 6 cups (about 1½ to 2 pounds) yellow onions, thinly sliced 3 tablespoons unsalted butter ½ teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 6 cups beef stock, preferably homemade 1 cup wine (dry red or white) 1 bay leaf, fresh if available ½ teaspoon ground sage Salt and pepper to taste 12 ounces gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, grated 4 ounces parmesan (or other hard) cheese, grated 2 to 3 tablespoons good cognac 8 slices baguette, sliced diagonally about 1” thick Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

5. Stir in about a cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the yummy cooked-on bits (known as “fond”). Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf to the soup, and simmer for 15-20 minutes to further marry and develop flavor. 6. While the soup is simmering, make the croutes by drizzling a bit of olive oil on each side of the bread slices, placing on a baking sheet, and baking in preheated oven until each side is golden and crisp. 7. Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Add the cognac. Add a few ounces of the grated cheese directly into the soup and stir. 8. To serve, transfer to 6 to 8 individual ramekins or soup bowls, depending on how robust a serving size you prefer. Place a couple of the croutes in a single layer on top of the soup, submerging them briefly to saturate with liquid. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Place serving bowls back in warm oven and broil to melt and brown the cheese. Serve bubbly hot, and don’t forget to indulge in my favorite part, the crispy melted cheese clinging to the sides of the bowl!

28  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013



fructose molecule “Pour some sugar on me, ooh, in the name of love Pour some sugar on me, c'mon fire me up Pour your sugar on me, I can't get enough.” – Def Leppard


here’s something about sweet. Think about how many terms of endearment derive from it: sugar, honey, hon, sweetie, sweetheart. The taste of sweet, in its most common manifestation as sugar, seems to elicit an emotional response in a way no other food component does. I mean, would you ever write to your love, “How I long for you, my fairest fiber”? Our deep attraction to sweetness stretches all the way back to the beginning times. In Genesis, it was an apple, not a rib eye, which the snake used to tempt Eve. Turns out that Biblical tale highlighted more about our nature than just our inability to follow simple instructions (God: “Eat from any tree, just not that one.”) It presaged that our sweet tooth comes with a wicked bite. Really wicked. A recent National Geographic cover story implicated sugar in just about every ill that has plagued the human race since its inception: war, slavery and, now, obesity. But there seems an inherent paradox here: why would we be wired with a desire that wreaks so much destruction on the species? The Nat Geo article posits this explanation: in our ape predecessors, a genetic mutation emerged that provided for more efficient processing of the fructose contained in fruit. That meant a little fuel could go a long way. This would have been quite a coup in the hominid gene pool. While the other apes were lying around rubbing their empty bellies, our predecessors were swinging through the trees like Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit. But what happens when the scarcity part of the equation is removed? We’re Cookie Monster in the Oreo factory. Nat Geo writer Rich Cohen traces sugar’s proliferation from its discovery in New Guinea 10,000 years ago, to the New World cane fields where slaves toiled, to the sugary sodas that have landed us in our current size-XXXL nightmare.

stevioside molecule

That winding and fraught journey started with a shorter one: from our brain to our liver. AN ITUNES PLAYLIST FOR HABITS The basal ganglia are a bundle of neurological tissues nestled deep in our brains that are believed to house every habit we’ve ever formed. Ever. Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, wrote an entire book about this curious repository called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. While we think of habits in mostly negative terms, Duhigg uses the term to describe every series of actions we execute automatically, which is actually a big majority of what we do. “Did you pause this morning to decide whether to tie your left or right shoe first? Did you have trouble figuring out if you should brush your teeth before or after you showered?” he asks in the book. Of course not. Because if you stopped to ponder every one of those decisions, you would be paralyzed, incapable of accomplishing anything. Because habits allow our brain to function much more efficiently, saving power for the big decisions, the basal ganglia look for them everywhere, turning anything that ends with a reward into a habit. Any parent who has ever withheld a juice box from their child could have foretold the results of experiments in the ’80s by Cambridge professor Wolfram Schultz, whom Duhigg cites in his book. In the experiments, a monkey named Julio with electrodes wired to his brain was given blackberry juice when he performed a series of tasks correctly. Scientists could literally watch the habit form in his brain. “When Julio saw the cue, he started anticipating a juice-fueled joy. But if the juice didn’t arrive, that joy became a craving that, if unsatisfied, drove Julio to anger or depression,” Duhigg wrote. Reading this, I recalled the candy jar I used to visit at the front desk of The Durango Herald. Every day after our afternoon news   29  

meeting, I would stop by the bowl and get two chocolates before returning to my desk in the newsroom. Soon, I was feeling buoyed toward the end of the meeting, anticipating the chocolate (really, it wasn’t at all because Durango news failed to rivet). What started as a casual treat one day, turned into a grinding habit. But the basal ganglia are at the primitive center of our brains so we can’t heap all the blame for the obesity epidemic on them. So where then? THE SECRET LIFE OF SUCROSE High-fructose corn syrup has gotten a bad rap in recent years because of its association with processed foods. But how the body handles it as opposed to sucrose – common table sugar – is indistinguishable. The main problem is quantity. Nowadays, the average American consumes around 22.7 teaspoons of sugar each day. This is more than double the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit for men and more than triple the limit for women. A major culprit is soda, which has around 8 teaspoons of sugar per can – the equivalent of about three apples. “If I could get rid of one thing, it would be the soda habit,” local nutritionist Mikel Love, a registered dietician, says. For decades, the common wisdom was that sugar is bad because it adds empty calories, supplanting more healthful options. But lately an alternative view has become prevalent, espoused most vociferously by Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California. In what has to be one of the only academic PowerPoint presentations to ever go viral, he credits fructose with causing health’s terrible triumvirate: obesity, hypertension and diabetes. This is because the liver, when flooded with fructose, converts much of it to fat. This, he argues, induces insulin resistance, which wreaks the aforementioned havoc. AND THE MIRACLE CURE IS ... None of the local nutritionists interviewed for this story argued for a fructose-free diet. “We need carbohydrates for energy; I mean, it fuels your cells,” says Michelina Paulek, a registered nurse and local health coach. The real devil is the added sugar packed into foods and beverages. The reason is simple: there is fructose in an apple but also vitamins and nutrients. And it takes three of them to equal the fructose in one soda. “Everything in moderation,” Paulek says. Ah, the old adage. Certainly there must be something more cutting edge to thwart the sugar tsunami. Duhigg, whatcha got? “To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine,” the habit book author wrote. Like eat an apple rather than a chocolate? That’s the same tough sell parents have been trying to make for centuries. Sorry guy, only chocolate delivers the reward of chocolate. Lustig, who has a new book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, has similar notso-sexy advice. “The single best thing you can do for yourself quality-of-lifewise, [is] exercise,” he said in a radio interview. “By far and away, 30  edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS   FALL 2013

nothing else comes close. The next thing that’s most important is when you’re eating, make sure you have some fiber.” Got that? Next time you’re craving a venti mocha latte, just have a nice glass of Metamucil instead. Ri-i-i-i-ght. a


irst, let me dispel the delusion that there is a magic sweetener that you can substitute for sugar and eat to your heart’s content without consequence. Some sweeteners that purport to be healthier, like stevia, are actually highly processed. Many of the natural alternatives are high in fructose, the same component that is problematic in sugar. And low-calorie sweeteners actually are suspected of contributing to weight gain because they trigger cravings. HONEY: Like sugar, honey is composed of fructose and glucose, but it also contains some vitamins and minerals and is less processed than sugar commonly is. It’s sweeter than sugar, so you can use less, and most varieties don’t cause blood sugar to spike as severely as sugar. AGAVE: This syrup is brought to us by the same plant that brings us tequila. It also is mostly fructose and glucose and also is sweeter than sugar. It’s said to be even easier on blood sugar than honey and has some trace minerals. STEVIA: The only versions of stevia approved by the Federal Drug Administration were developed by The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo and are highly processed. On its website, the FDA states: “FDA has not permitted the use of whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive.” It cites concerns about control of blood sugar and effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems. But others argue it’s safe and natural and blame industry for creating the cloud of suspicion. XYLITOL: This sugar alcohol is made from corncobs and hardwoods. Xylitol is less sweet than sugar and has few calories. It doesn’t cause high blood sugar but it can have laxative effects because it’s not fully absorbed in the digestive system. BEET SUGAR: Regarding human health, beet sugar is almost identical to cane sugar. Non-GMO beet sugar is apparently hard to come by, according to NOW Foods supplement maker. DEXTROSE: Another name for glucose, this is part of the blend that makes up sucrose, or regular sugar, but it believed to be slightly less toxic than fructose, the other part of sucrose, because it doesn’t harm the liver function as markedly. It is less sweet than fructose and is not widely, nor cheaply available. COCONUT SUGAR: Like honey and agave, this option is often less refined than cane sugar, but it still contains significant fructose and can cause the same metabolic problems when consumed in excess. And it’s definitely not cheap. MOLASSES: Like sugar, molasses comes from cane and beets, but the vitamins and minerals have not been refined out. Because of this, it also imparts a strong flavor and color to foods. cident by a chemist testing an anti-ulcer drug. It has been ac

ASPARTAME: This artificial sweetener is the primary component in NutraSweet and Equal. It apparantly was discovered accidentally by a chemist testing an anti-ulcer drug. It has been accused of causing everything from headaches to cancer, but the FDA maintains it is safe. It has almost no calories, but doesn't taste or act like sugar, so its uses remain limited. SACCHARIN: The oldest of all artificial sweeteners, saccharin also was discovered accidentally "in 1879 when Constantin Fahlberg, a Johns Hopkins University scientist working on coaltar derivatives, noticed a substance on his hands and arms that tasted sweet," a 2009 Time article stated. "No one knows why Fahlberg decided to lick an unknown substance off his body." Those wacky scientists. The substance, hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, spent decades under a cloud of suspicion after studies showed it caused cancer in mice. Now the FDA says not to worry, because we're not rats. SUCRALOSE: This substance, the key ingredient in Splenda, is chlorinated sugar. It was approved for use in 1998. Though it is exponentially sweeter than sugar, it does not break down when heated, so can be used as a sugar substitute in baking. The reason it is calorie free is because the body passes it through without digesting it. Like other artificial sweeteners, it doesn't affect insulin levels. SUPPORTING OUR REGION’S FARMERS, RANCHERS AND ARTISANS

Fridays 11-4 SOUTH OAK STREET 970-433-4699

June 7th through October 11th



(from the top, clockwise) Dylan Sloan spends most of his days marketing for Mezcal Vago from his Ophir, CO, bedroom. Sloan is one-half of the team that is bringing small batch Mezcal to the San Juans. Christopher Mellon takes a rare moment to gather his thoughts in the kitchen at the Travelers World Cafe on College Ave. You can read more about Mellon and his unique cafe online at Ole Bye disrupts a starling that had been comfortably resting on top of his head at Banga's Farm in Mancos, CO. The young starling (which is also pictured on our table of contents page) befriended Dave Banga not long before this photograph was taken.

Fall 2013  

Telling the story of local food throughout the San Juans including Durango, Telluride, Cortez and Pagosa Springs.

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