15th Annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner

 

logoDeer Valley Executive Chefs Jodie Rogers and Clark Norris were invited to participate as featured chefs at Niman Ranch’s Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa this August.

 Niman Ranch raises livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to produce the finest tasting meat in the world and is a main supplier for Deer Valley Resort.

The 2013 Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is the ranch’s biggest event of the year and Featured Chefs included:

Alex Yellan- POK POK,  NYC
Anne Quatrano- Bacchanalia, Atlanta
David Bull- Congress, Austin
Clark Norris & Jodie Rogers- Deer Valley Resort, Park City
Jack Riebel- Butcher & the Boar, Minneapolis
Kevin Sbraga- Sbraga, Philadelphia

The 15th annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner, celebrated the important connection between the food we eat and the farmers who produce it.  This event has grown over the years from under 100 guests the first year to over 400 guests last year. Read more about the 2014 event on Niman Ranch’s blog

Chef Jodie Rogers documented their weekend in Iowa visiting the farms and of course, everything they ate!

Thursday, August 15:

Here we are at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon sill trying to get to Iowa- Clark and I arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. to find out that our flight had been CANCELLED and they could not put us on a flight until Saturday (which is when the dinner for 500 hog farmers is scheduled)!  Oh dear, thankfully Sarah Willis (original farmers daughter of the Willis Hog Farms) was able to secure different seats on another airline to get us in that day!

We filled in our six-hour wait at SLC International Airport by enjoying breakfast at Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Basil Bloody Mary’s and a massage… oh my god, the massage (Clark made me do it).

We finally made it to Denver, had a quick layover and met Amanda from Niman. Soon we were finally en route to Iowa!

The Welcome Dinner that night at DJANGO, a local brasserie-style restaurant where Owner/Chef George Formaro serves everything we loved about French cuisine, utilizing fresh local sustainable ingredients (including Niman Ranch). Chef George was one of the featured chefs at the ranch’s 2011 dinner! We had a lot of fun meeting all the other chefs participating in this year’s event over dinner. We even toured their cured meats area, which is down in the “dungeon” and very similar size to what the chefs at Silver Lake do.

DJANGO menu

DJANGO dinner

Friday August 16:

Today was an amazing day all around. All the chefs and Chefs Collaborative Scholarship winners toured La Quercia.  La Quercia makes artisan cured meats or salumi — prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, speck, lonza, guanciale, and lardo. Seeking out the best ingredients, produced responsibly, they craft them by hand into something that expresses their appreciation for the beauty and bounty of Iowa. Cathy, of the husband and wife team, was extremely passionate and knowledgeable with what they produce. The two-hour tour was mind blowing and reminded me of why I should and will support the artisans within our trade. We witnessed a tight team take the steps learned by trial and error over the years to produce a superior Iowa prosciutto. After the tour we were lucky enough sample the product. It may be a long three-year process for the acorn prosciuttos but the wait is well worth it. My new favorite is the prosciutto spread, I think it would be great addition to our local cheese selections!

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For lunch, we met up with Trevor (Wasatch Meats) and his wife Sharen, Amanda (Our Niman Ranch Representative) and Rich (Niman Ranch Niman Rep) for a simple but tasty Ham and Swiss from the HUB.

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Back to the hotel (did I mention how sweet our suites are?!) Change of attire to “country casual” and back on the bus……. seriously, how can the day get any better?

Two buses were loaded up about 120 Chefs, salesmen and women in media and marketing (Google was even represented!) We were in for about a hours drive to Alderland Farm in New Providence, Iowa for five extensive lessons on hog farming.

Station 1: We started at the end product and learned how they rate the meat color and the marbling the fat contents. After this experience I am not sure I will ever buy commodity pork for my family ever again!

Station 2: What does a Niman raised hog have the privilege of eating at will? Corn, wheat, soybeans and oats. All pretty much grown on the farm the pigs are raised on. In my mind I am thinking of the dish Clark and I have ready to prepare the next night! Oh no, its high end hog feed, organic farro, fresh corn and a plethora of other local ingredients.  Hope the farmers do not catch on to this!

We started to walk towards station 3 only to be met by a tractor driven by the farmers son. We were herded on to the back and transported to meet with Paul Willis, co-founder of the Niman Ranch pork program. He is such a wealth of information and he talked us through the life of the hogs out on the field. They even have housing!

Tractor Transportation

At stations 4 and the 5 we met up with Paul Brown, the owner of the farm, he has so much passion and pride in what he does! Here we learned his story and realized that he may be the farmer but it really does take an entire family effort.

Next stop was back to the farm house for an awesome array of farm baked goods from the farmers wife. They had a chocolate caramel slice that reminded me of home (Australia). It was one of the first desserts I ever learned to make when I was not even 10. I couldn’t believe I was in Iowa with a childhood memory in hand. It was actually the farmer’s daughter that made it and we talked for a long time.

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Paul Willis

 

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Back on the bus we all go for another hour to the stop I have been waiting for– Willis Dream Farm..and yes, it is very appropriately named!

A few simple words come to mind! Prairie, Whole Pig, Heirloom Tomatoes’, Potato Salad, sunset…… I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves but did I mention the whole pig…. Delicious.

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L to R, Amanda Seastrom (NR Sales) Chefs Clark and Jodie (Deer Valley UT...

Saturday August 17:

The day of the dinner has arrived, it’s time for the chefs to show the farmers just how much we appreciate them. I hope they are ready for a lot of pork on their forks!

The day is long and tedious with many “unexpected” moments for all of the chefs. Clark did not have the roasting pans we needed to perfect the cooking of the Tenderloin and I was wearing a pan of farro down the front of my legs and in my shoes right before plate up, yes, its true! I found out the hard way that the 65 pounds of farro with 10 pounds of butter and 30 pounds of Frisian farmstead mature gouda is great for the complexion.

Appetizers began at 5 p.m. and the chefs were running for their lives, thankfully Clark did the pork cheeks at Deer Valley and shipped it overnight. We would never have made it otherwise!

Let me take a moment to give you something to think about: one kitchen and crew being invaded by 10 out of town anxious chefs, culinary students, local chefs and many many many different levels of stress and personality……. you can probably picture the chaos that ensued.

This is the menu and line-up of chefs featured:

Passed Hors d’ Oeuvres

Sausage and Eggs
Slow Poached Egg, Spicy Italian Sausage, Garlic Crouton, Basil
Chef David Bull
Congress Restaurant
Austin, Texas

 Daeji Bulgogi
Korean BBQ Pork Cheeks, Sweet and Spicy Sauce,
Pickled Cucumbers and Peppers, Butter Lettuce
Chefs Jodie Rogers and Clark Norris
Deer Valley Resort
Park City, Utah

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 Strammer Max, Butterkäse, Quails Egg, New Potato, House Mustard
Chefs Jack Riebel and Peter Botcher
Butcher and the Boar Restaurant, B&B Foods LLC
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 Iowa Farmstead
Selection of Iowa Locally Grown and Produced Foods
by Iowa Farmers and Chefs

Muu Sawan
Fried Dry Pork, Crispy Lime Leaf, Dry Chile Sauce
Chef Alex Yellan
Pok Pok
New York, New York

 Pork Pâté, Tomato Confit, Yogurt, Pita, Dill
Chef Kevin Sbraga
Sbraga
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 Star Provisions’ House Cured Toscano Crostini
Preserved Lemon, Pickled Mustard Seeds
Chefs Anne Quatrano & Clifford Harrison
Bacchanalia
Atlanta, Georgia

 Amuse Bouche
Pork Belly & Tofu Terrine
Apple-Fig Salad, Tonburi, Shisho, White Soy
Chef David Bull
Congress Restaurant
Austin, Texas

 

First Course
Country Ham Tamale
Greens, Ham,Tomato, Chile
Chef Alex Yellan
Pok Pok
New York, New York

Dish #1

 Second Course
Chilled Pork Breast, Cucumbers, Chili Oil, Sea Lettuce, Scallion
Chef Kevin Sbraga
Sbraga
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dish #2

 Third Course
Trotter Ring Sausage, Crispy Pigs’ Ear, Heirloom Tomato, Green Chile
Chefs Jack Riebel and Peter Botcher
Butcher and the Boar Restaurant, B&B Foods LLC
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dish #3

Entrée
Oak Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
Iowa Sweet Corn and Frisian Farmstead Mature Gouda, Farro, Root Vegetables,Pontack Sauce, Elderberry Glaze
Chefs Jodie Rogers and Clark Norris
Deer Valley Resort

Park City, Utah

Dish #5, entree

 

 Dessert
Chocolate, Chicharonnes, Chile
Anne Quatrano & Clifford Harrison
Executive Chefs/Owners
Bacchanalia
Atlanta, Georgia

Dessert, partially eaten

A few Pictures from behind the scenes:

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Clark with his Home-made Oak Smoked Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

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65 lbs. of faro ready to be cooked

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Prepping at 1 a.m. in the morning before the event. We even had apprentices!

During the dinner Niman Ranch recognizes their outstanding farmers of the year and present the next generation scholarship awards. During the meal it is communicated to the farmers that their continued commitment to traditional farming practices remains vitally important.  

Also awarded were the top 10 hog farmers (based on meat quality) and the Hog Farm Family of the Year. This year’s award went to the Crowe family. A great video of Adair Crowe played during the presentation and I was able to get the link for it: http://vimeo.com/54176499 (be sure to watch, this was a really good video).

Overall it was a fantastic weekend in Iowa and a wonderful way to meet the Farmer’s who provide us with such quality product!

Dinner at the Deer Valley Grocery~Café

dvgc- (3) Park City and Deer Valley Resort have many secrets only known by a select few (generally local folks, a few visitors in the know, or natural explorers). One of them might still be the Deer Valley Grocery~Café located at the Deer Valley Plaza. This restaurant stands as a refreshing oasis of calm, fine food, casual ambiance and relaxation, a stone’s-throw away from the busy commercial heart of Park City.

In fact, barely one mile separates the Grocery~Café from the bustling Historical Main Street. There, visitors will discover a place filled with serenity, framed by nature and offering sensibly priced meals on a deck facing a pond that now welcomes stand-up paddleboarding during the day and entire families of ducks that take over the water front when the sun is ready to set.

dvgc- (20)This pristine location is already known for its wonderful breakfast with delightful croissants and other morning pastries, something I have experienced since the place was taken over by Deer Valley Resort. It has gradually been gaining popularity before becoming the choice breakfast place in Park City. It is also a great spot to take someone to lunch and have a quiet conversation accompanied by good food.

dvgc- (10)What most people still don’t realize is that the Grocery~Café can also be a wonderful location for a casual, yet delightful dinner. This is something I discovered for the first time a few evenings ago and that I am definitely going to repeat.

If walking the short distance between Main Street and Deer Valley Plaza is not quite what you had in mind, just hop in your car. If you’re coming from Park City, drive up Deer Valley Drive or descend Royal Street if you are staying up the hill; you’ll always find abundant parking for your car and you’ll be welcome “Deer Valley style” by a staff that never forgets how important their guests are.

Since beautiful weather rules almost constantly in Utah, any day will do. When you get there, just place your order at the counter and pick a table on the deck. Dinner is served from 5 to 8:30 p.m. during the summer and it’s not rare to see diners linger on well into the cool evening. After you’ve ordered at the counter, the servers will bring the order right to your table.

dvgc- (17)Perhaps the best way to prepare for all the delightful options offered by the Grocery~Café extensive menu, is to go online and review its tantalizing array of fares in advance. There are great starters, a large selection of salads, the classic Deer Valley panini sandwiches and wraps, some great soup and gazpacho, plus the usual hot specialties ranging from pizza to quiche. For dinner, the Grocery~Café also offers an extensive list of specials with a good selection of vegan and gluten-free options.

dvgc- (6)The gazpacho was recommended to us, so that’s how we started our dinner. It was the perfect appetizer on such a beautiful summer evening. We continued by sharing a few small plates; the cedar plank salmon that was literally melting in the mouth and received the perfect accompaniment of rhubarb rosemary compote.

We also wanted to sample the duck breast and were not disappointed. It was roasted to perfection and was just delicious. Somehow, we also wanted to try the chicken wrap that was to die for, and dying we almost did from such a feast, but we still managed to conclude the evening with the appropriately named “World famous biscotti” for dessert. What a treat and what a discovery!

A superb evening, a relaxing, casual and beautiful setting, plus a very affordable menu have added the Deer Valley Grocery~Café to our very select list of great dinner spots in Park City. The tranquility of the site, its informality, a staff that goes out of their way to make sure everything is perfect, all these elements bring a piece of magic hard to duplicate anywhere.

Make sure to experience it during these last weeks of summer and I’ll guarantee that you too will become fans. As for us, we’ll soon be back!

Families that Paddle Together…

family pondI expected hilarity to ensue. One of my dear friends, Christina Boyle Cush, a former colleague who runs Sea Glass Communications in Connecticut, brought her family to visit a few weeks ago. We used to work together at a teen magazine. She would drop by my office to read letters from readers about their most embarrassing moments. I would return the favor by dropping by her office to introduce her to actors I was interviewing for the magazine. (Hello, Jerry O’Connell. How ya doin’ Ashton Kutcher?)

Seth Sea glass CommSixteen years later, we found ourselves being taught stand up paddleboard skills by a much-decorated professional SUP athlete Trent Hickman, a celebrity in his own right, and gearing up for what I was sure would be many embarrassing moments. I didn’t flinch when Christina’s 12 year-old daughter took in my outfit (pink baseball hat, pink rash guard, pink-striped surf shorts) and dubbed me “Pinky Pants.” Instead, I owned it, and determined that our two families would be “Team Pinky Pants.”

family learningThis came in handy when Trent asked me to gather everyone around for a quick safety discussion and shore-side lesson. “Team PinkyPants, circle up,” I shouted. Christina’s two girls beamed, while her son and my boys shook their heads in dismay. Then, we all got quiet as Trent explained how to hold the paddles, steer the boards and generally keep ourselves safe (when in doubt, kneel). I fully expected to remain on my knees for the entire lesson. Trent heard Seth express concern that he might not be ready to steer a board of his own, and offered him a ride on the front of his own board. Nothing makes that kid feel more proud than hanging out with professional athletes, so he could not accept the invitation quickly enough.

trent familyBefore long, we were all kneeling on boards, and paddling away from the shore. And in what seemed like a blink, we were all standing. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to maintain my balance while handling the board and paddle. Chrissy and her husband seemed to have the same sense of ease on their boards, and most of the kids had no problem figuring it out. What was remarkable to me was the sense of calm that seemed to pervade the outing. It’s one of the rare sports where I have no unreasonable expectations of myself (I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, but I am hyper-competitive with myself in almost every athletic pursuit. The fact that this is ridiculous, counterintuitive, useless thinking has no bearing on my behavior—but, that’s how I roll.)

kids familyHere, I could see the calming effect of standing on a board in a placid body of water and just…gliding. I noticed that Lance, who often gets frustrated when he can’t get something right on the first try (yes, I know where he gets that from) discovered a heretofore untapped reserve of patience for himself and the learning curve.

Thrillingly, I had found a sport that involves standing on a board that my entire family can enjoy together. [See also: my kids love to skateboard, and their parents do not.]

Bari Nan familyMeanwhile, I gained so much confidence in a short amount of time that when Trent had to help other guests, and Seth still wasn’t ready to go it alone, I offered him a seat on my board. I should add that Trent had observed Seth paddling on the front of his own board and felt confident that he could handle himself–and told him as much before going ashore. Seth, however, felt differently, and when Trent returned, he made a point of telling him, plainly and respectfully, that he didn’t agree, and that he didn’t like that he was left alone. Trent is naturally gifted with kids–he didn’t belittle the feelings of a six year-old, but rather thanked Seth for telling him how he felt, and explaining that he knew, even if Seth didn’t, that the kid was capable of handling a board, solo. I loved how he both showed Seth respect and instilled confidence in him at the same time.

We paddled a while longer, with most of the kid members of Team Pinky Pants finding excuses to “fall” into the water (read: jump gleefully off their boards) only to climb aboard again and find another excuse a minute later. When our hour was up, we dried off, thanked Trent and relented to the deck of the Deer Valley Grocery Cafe for cookies.

family funAs we sat there, the kids feeling the bond of having shared a cool experience together, I felt pretty confident that no one on Team Pinky Pants would feel compelled to write a letter to a teen magazine about their experiences.

Skateboard Camp

photo (9)There are times, in parenting, when you just want to look the other way. I feel like that every single time I set foot in the world-class cement structure known as the Park City Skateboard Park. As it happens, I set foot in there daily for a week at a time, sometimes more than once, each summer.

From the moment they learned how to skateboard last summer–no, from the moment I bought them all the gear last summer, they have fancied themselves little Shaun Whites. Simply put: my children are suckers for the skatepark, and they are crazygonuts for the skateboarding camps offered by Park City Recreation Department. Offered weekly, the camps are taught by our town’s super-talented teen (and maybe even younger) skateboard instructors. Great talent–and even great teaching talent–knows no age. This may or may not hold true only within the confines of the skateboard park. Regardless, I’m totally impressed by the quality of instruction my kids receive at this camp.

This, however, does not cancel out my overriding fear that the children are going to maim themselves in the name of a totally rad trick. These tricks have cool skater names, but I tend to (privately) name them after the injuries they have the potential to produce. The Spine Tangler. The Shoulder Dislocater, The Fibular Fracture. You get the idea.

Still, for two hours a day, my kids revel in the ramps. And, in fairness, they are learning to skate safely. And as you can see from this video clip, we aren’t exactly into high-risk skill sets….YET.

(link to Seth demonstrating his moves)

Nevertheless, I make it my business to keep my cardiac health intact by running and hiking during the hours they are at camp–because after all, at the end of the day, they are going to want me to watch them show off their mad skillz.

 

 

Tour of Utah Final Stage on Main Street in Park City

race startMain Street is the place to be when the cyclists take off and return for the final stage of the Tour of Utah. Even though many of us have never cycled in a race, we all can relate to the difficult sport.  I can’t even imagine five days of leg burning capped off with a sprint up Guardsman’s Pass in the last 5 kilometers of the race then racing at 50 miles an hour down the steep Empire Pass.  That’s brutal!

cyclistsI love the buzz on Main Street in Park City on race day. I attended last year and was shocked at how we were able to get such a great view of the finish line at this world-class race.  This year my focus was on the start.  My husband and I came early and set up on lower Park Ave so we could watch the riders from the beginning before all the breakaways.

support carsI found myself cheering for the support car from my favorite sponsors as they followed the riders on the course ready with a spare bike and tire.  It seemed a little odd to be cheering for a car in a bike race.  Then again, NASCAR fans across the nation cheer for their favorite cars (sans the drivers) as the support team drives across the country to the next race.  So I figure I am in good company.

subaru boothMain Street was packed with bike enthusiasts discussing the latest equipment and technology with vendors.  The BackCountry and Subaru booths were jammed with fans watching the race on the big screen TVs inside.

We picked up our swag from the vendors including our cowbell that we plan to send to our 3-year-old granddaughter (which she’ll love but just might drive her parents a bit crazy.)  We stocked up on Chapstick, hats, and sunscreen offered by the vendors.  We put our names in to win multiple bike jerseys – we’ll let you know if our names are drawn!  You never know.

backcountry stickMostly we walked away with an appreciation of the teamwork involved in cycling. At first glance it appears cycling is an individual sport. It’s not.  I really had no idea how the Lead-out man, the Peloton, and Domestiques on the team work together to produce a win.  Living in Park City, we have so many opportunities to learn about world-class sports up close and personal that we might not have the chance to see elsewhere.

backcountry tvThis may sound silly but I am looking forward to riding my bike on the trails in Park City using my “Competitive Cyclist” water bottle.  It will be a reminder for me to push myself, take one more hill and pick up my speed due to some inspiration I got on Main Street at the final stage of the Tour of Utah in 2013.

Interview with Chef Chris Gibson, Royal Street Cafe

Chef Chris Gibson has been part of Deer Valley Resort’s culinary team since 2003; first working part-time, seasonally, and now as the sous chef at Royal Street Café. His philosophy of finding fresh, local ingredients to craft into house-made specialties has translated into a dining experience that is as inspiring (and ever-changing) as the spectacular views off the deck at the Silver Lake Lodge Restaurant. Deer Valley Blogger, Bari Nan Cohen, caught up with Chef Gibson just as the summer season picked up, to get the latest on the menu, and the inside track on why the Asian Chicken Salad is different now.

The Asian Chicken Salad was a Royal Street Cafe signature item. Why change it?

It’s funny–people have asked us that a lot, but we’re noticing that they are ordering it just as much as before. (Check) We used to serve it with teriyaki orange glazed chicken strips and fried wontons–and it was kind of hard to manage with chopsticks. So we made it more of a chopped salad, changed out the wonton chips for puffed rice, and then looked at how we could make the favors different. We brought in more of the umami flavor–there is fermented black bean, broccoli stems, mushrooms and fermented fish sauce in the dressing. We are getting a lot of feedback–and since the salad was made the other way for 20 years, that’s not surprising.

What are some of the other special touches we might see?

We don’t make many drastic changes, but we do like to evolve the way we make things. For instance, our BLT used to be made with deli-turkey that we bought from a supplier. Now we buy turkey, smoke it ourselves, and then slice it, so you’re biting into a sandwich that has that home-roasted turkey feel.

We also buy a case of habanero peppers and smoke it for three days so that we can send it to our cheese maker (Gold Creek Farms in Kamas, Utah) and he can mix it right in with the curd to make our smoked habanero cheddar that we use on the bison burger.

178 Royal Street Cafe_Deer Valley ResortWhat are some of the other items that are created in-house?

The ketchup for the frites (fries) is house-made. The bison burger is ground in-house from whole chucks, we make our own bacon, our own smoked habanero aioli, we carmelize the onions and we make the barbecue sauce, too.

I’m intrigued by the charcuterie–there seem to be a lot of house-made meats. How did you get into that?

It started because we couldn’t find an andouille sausage that we liked well enough to put in our gumbo. So I buy pork from Niman Ranch, and I use a lot of green onions with it, because the green onion has naturally occurring bacteria that ferments the pork into a cured sausage.

IMG_9783What is your favorite item on the menu–what do you tend to order for lunch?

I usually taste every menu item in the kitchen each day, which means, that’s lunch. But when I do order, I go for the tuna tacos–it’s fresh, relatively healthy, and I enjoy the richness of the flavors in that dish.

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?

I just bought a new downhill mountain bike–it doesn’t hurt that I work at the base of a chairlift and world-class trails, so I tend to get out on my bike a lot. If you are looking for a good “run-slash-hike,” go to the Silver Lake Trail–you will get a workout.

232 Biking_Deer Valley ResortHow do you like to spend your weekends?

My wife and I have two young daughters, ages seven and five, so we go camping, hiking and biking with them. I’m an avid runner, and I competed in the Ragnar relay, earlier this summer.

What are your go-to family meals at home?

Well, if we let our girls choose, they would eat a whole bunch of stuff dipped in ranch dressing at every meal, but we’ve found that curries are always a hit. I’m also a big gardener, so I will make up batches of chili verde and freeze them in meal-sized bags, so we have those on hand all winter. I can hundreds of tomatoes and make lots of fresh sauce to freeze so we have that all year for pasta. But in the summer, we grill a lot. There’s something about kebabs–some veggies, well-seasoned meat, Greek yogurt, it’s delicious and kid-friendly without being kid food.

Closer to Fine: Five Lessons from Girls’ Night out with the Indigo Girls and the Utah Symphony

IMG_0388There is so much good music to choose from at Deer Valley Resort in the summer that I managed to bookend a week with concerts by performers who had provided the soundtrack to my college years.  With Bruce Hornsby on a Monday, then, The Indigo Girls with the Utah Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, I was set up for a great week of music. Add that to the fact that I hadn’t yet been to a Deer Valley Music Festival performance of the Utah Symphony this summer, and that I consider having a world-class symphony to be one of the great perks of living near Salt Lake City (we take in several performances each season at Abravanel Hall), and it seemed impossible that the week could be any better.

After all, I’d already scored a parenting lesson from Bruce Hornsby, so things were off to a good start. I knew the Indigo Girls’ soaring harmonies would sound fantastic live—and would only be enhanced by the awesome sounds of the Utah Symphony. Little did I know that the Indigo Girls with the Utah Symphony would present me with a whole bunch of fun facts and lessons.  Of course, there are the practical lessons (which I’m not counting in the tally) that I take with me to every Deer Valley Concert. For instance:

Make sure your chairs meet the published seat-height requirement (9- inches). When you arrive, use the ski valet area to drop off one or more members of your party, plus the gear, while one member of the party parks the car. Wear a hat (yes, I know, not everyone can have a hat as cool as my gold cowboy hat, but that should not deter you from having sun protection), pack extra blankets to wrap around you if you get chilled, and even if it’s 90 degrees in the shade all day, dress in jeans and a short-sleeved top, because the minute the sun goes down, you’ll regret wearing shorts. Pack a sweatshirt. Unless you have a rolling-cart style bag (like I do), don’t stuff your extra layers and blankets and picnic all in one bag—it’s easier to distribute the load among your group if you have several smaller bags. Plus, those bags can hold down the corners of your blanket, quite nicely.

But the first real lesson of the evening happened before the evening began. Jeff had to leave town for a conference that morning, so I had booked a sitter and rallied a group of girlfriends for an evening out. Over breakfast that morning, the kids had asked if Jeff would have attended the concert with me had he been in town, since concerts—and, in particular, symphony performances, generally account for better than 50 percent of our date nights.

“You know, I probably would have—I know it’s one of Mommy’s favorite groups, so it would have been fun to see the Indigo Girls with her,” he said. “But now that it worked out like this, I think it’s better that Mom is going with her friends. She doesn’t get to do that as often, and I think this is the way it should have been whether I was here or not.”

IMG_0387(Lesson 1: It should not fall to my husband to remind me to get together with my girlfriends, but it’s pretty awesome that he does.)

Unlike the Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers concert, for which we had reserved seats, my friends and I planned to enjoy the music of the Indigo Girls with the Utah Symphony from the lawn, with a potluck picnic of appetizers and cocktails.

In the days leading up to our big night out, at least one friend (and, yes, I’m looking at you, Kathy) admonished me not to pack a six-course meal—“I know you, and you tend to go overboard. We don’t need a million choices of pie,” she chided. (Yes, she’s been at my house for Thanksgiving, and yes, I tend to over-order pie from the Deer Valley Bakery, and No, I don’t see a thing wrong with that practice. But I digress.)

As if to continue the friendtervention trend, yet another pal sought to save me from myself. I had in mind that we’d get there the moment the gates opened, so as to procure primo real estate on the lawn. If you are getting the sense that I can be a bit of an over-planner, your powers of inference are astute. If you are also getting the sense that my friends know me better than I know myself, well, then, you get bonus “astute points.” Ana, whose laid-back spirit I admire yet fail to emulate, suggested that three hours of baking in the pre-show sun was probably in no one’s best interest.

(Lesson 2: Friendterventions are a good thing.)

Of course, when we arrived, Ana began to fret that I’d be upset that we had to hike to the top of the lawn section to spread our blanket and set up our picnic and chairs. The fact that Ana had the foresight to bring chairs would have absolved her of any guilt, had there been any guilt to assign. (Here’s the thing about me: once I make a decision to go with the flow, I do exactly that. What’s that: Lesson 3: I can be laid-back?) And, once Kathy arrived, she brought (count them) three varieties of hummus with her, to share. I will point out that not one of us was disappointed by this turn of events—they were delicious. But I found it ironic and funny nevertheless. I had to smile as I unveiled three varieties of crackers.

Mel produced some grilled salmon filets (thank you Whole Foods deli counter) and Ana unveiled bacon-wrapped figs, plus a fun, new way to hydrate. “It’s like a non-sweet non-alcoholic mojito,” she explained. “I know, it doesn’t sound like fun.” Oh, but it is fun. See, she’s right (Lesson 4), hydrating with plain water gets boring. So, her mocktail of fresh lime juice and fresh mint cut with sparkling water was just the ticket. (That, and the fact that we were pouring it alongside Prosecco…). Our friend Lisa and her sister Aimee, who was visiting from Ohio, joined us a short while later, happily plunking down among us and sharing in our bounty.

Also, my golden cowboy hat (for which I received some flak via Facebook on Monday) came in handy as I needed something to wave from the top of the hill so that each friend could find us as they arrived.

During the concert, I remembered the wise words of Claire, a young friend of mine who is one of the kids’ favorite babysitters. “Sitting on the lawn is the best—you can just get up and dance whenever you want.” Claire, as usual, was absolutely right. Lisa and I spent a lot of time on our feet (dancing off the snacks, presumably), singing at the top of our lungs and swapping stories about where we’d been when we listened to these songs 20 years earlier. (Lesson 5: Deer Valley concerts rock, no matter where you sit, so don’t start freaking out about getting there at noon to be first in line when the gates open.).

We ate, we drank, we sang, we danced, and, perhaps most importantly, we laughed. And as we re-loaded our gear into the car, we vowed to do it again, soon.

Making Noise with Bruce Hornsby

sky1Clouds gathered, lightning flashed, and a cool drizzle settled over the crowd as Teri Orr, exclaimed, “We live in the mountains! What’s a little rain?” Orr, who is the executive director of the Park City Arts Foundation has overseen a few damp concerts in her many years at the helm of the non-profit organization that rallies sponsors to bring headliners to Park City for the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights concert series. On this mid-July Monday, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers would perform—rain or shine.

As far as Jeff and I were concerned, the evening was perfect—first, we had a babysitter for the kids. Second, since we’d seen Bruce Hornsby and his band a decade ago, we knew we were in for a treat—if the previous experience was any indication, there may or may not be a set list, and there would be tons of improvisation, riffing and otherwise killer jamming onstage. And, third, the droplets of rain were a refreshing change from the heat of the previous few weeks.

bruce on stageWe planned the evening so that we’d be there with enough time to enjoy the views, soak up the atmosphere, and dine alfresco, so by the time the show started we were well-fed, relaxed and ready to enjoy the music. Upon arrival at Deer Valley, we’d found our seats in the ninth row of the reserved section, and then collected our delicious Deer Valley Gourmet Picnic Basket. We took a leisurely approach to our concert dining—starting with the antipasto, then meandering our way to the main course (perfectly-cooked beef tenderloin), nibbling on other delicacies in the basket, followed by some lemon pound cake and then the cheese course (brie, baguettes, grapes). We sipped wine, we chatted with the couple in the seats next to ours and we visited with friends seated nearby. It felt, not surprisingly, like a vacation.

We weren’t familiar with Railroad Earth, the evening’s opening act, but plenty of concertgoers seemed to have come with the express purpose of hearing them play—and they may or may not have realized that they’d get to hear the band’s musicians throughout the headlining set. Bruce Hornsby invited them to join in on song after song. As if his band, the Noisemakers weren’t already stacked to the rafters with skilled musicians, the guys from Railroad Earth wowed the crowd with their own brand of excellence. Over the course of the evening, as Hornsby introduced various members of his band, he’d mention their tenure playing together. One had been in Hornsby’s band for 22 years, another for 18. I marveled at how much time they must spend together—probably more hours than most married couples spend together—and what a bond they must have.

bari nan and husbandThroughout the evening, I marveled at the unique experience of sitting in (surprisingly comfortable) lawn chairs on a ski run, watching a summer storm pass through, (and yes, there was a heavier rain during the opening act, but umbrellas came out, jackets were donned, and the evening marched on, unhampered), chatting with old friends and new alike, dining on a gourmet picnic all in the framework of seeing world class entertainment. It’s tempting to take it for granted, but I try not to do that. Interestingly, my Facebook friends keep me honest in that regard. As soon as I posted this photo of Jeff and myself in pre-concert mode, my far-flung pals began commenting on the setting, the exciting location, and the thrill of seeing Hornsby. (There were also a few comments about how relaxed we looked, which only added to the vacation-feel. And, for some reason, a couple of pals found it necessary to call us out for wearing hats. Um, hello? Sun protection anyone? It stays sunny until nearly 9 p.m. in July!)

By intermission, my smart, thoughtful husband had the good sense to pop over to the concession stand and surprise me with a hot pretzel, accompanied by fig mustard. (You should eat this. It’s very, very good.) I was chatting with some friends when he came back, holding his-and-her pretzels. Our friends began to tease us about not sharing—one couple, midlife newlyweds, explained how they’d had to sort out their food sharing policy early in their courtship—and I felt compelled to explain our modus operandi regarding Deer Valley concert snacks.

“When I am here with my kids, I can’t so much as look at a cookie without the boys laying claim on it,” I said. “So when we are here without them, Jeff knows that I—who possess otherwise stellar sharing skills—Will. Not. Share. So, if any of you would like some of my pretzel, I will happily buy you one of your own.”

Laughing, we returned to our seats for the second half of the show. Bruce and the guys spent time sharing new songs and old favorites, including “Mandolin Rain,” which he says most people tell them is their “make-out song.” All in all, the show had the feel of being asked to sit in on an all-night jam session. Even the old favorites had new arrangements.

bruceAs the show drew to a close the audience was begging for an encore. Bruce Hornsby came to the front of the stage and explained, almost plaintively, “We have a hard curfew at this venue, and we played right up to the last minute of it. Thank you for coming out to hear us.”

Who knew that Bruce Hornsby is an imparter of parental wisdom—I vowed to use that very same tone when discussing bedtime with my children the following night. After all, if it could placate a huge crowd at a concert, surely it could achieve a similar effect with a couple of grade-schoolers.

Thanks, Bruce.

piano