Monday, July 26, 2010

Old Broads in the Kitchen

I'm discovering that old broads make the world go 'round. Maybe it's because I am one, and I fancy that a network of old broads is an unstoppable force. As Bette Davis said, "If you want a thing done well, get a couple of old broads to do it." So I collect old broads and cultivate relationships with them. They're everywhere, and I've found some gems. I'm building my network.

In each of the little Rocky Mountain towns we've visited, there's always a cafe that serves up perfect eggs, juicy burgers, homemade pies, and specialties of the house like Buffalo chili and sweet potato fries. If you peek into the kitchen, you'll find an old broad who has honed her skills cooking for a family. Her resume is thirty-plus years of short order breakfasts, production line sandwiches and Sunday dinners for a crowd. She invented multi-tasking. For her, all cooking is homecooking, and at her cafe, you want to tip the waitress and kiss the cook.

One Sunday, we pulled into Pat's Falling Rock Cafe in Howard, Colorado at about 10:30 in the morning for a late breakfast. We were the only ones in the place, and we could hear a lot of pan-rattling in the kitchen and snatches of a tense conversation: "...need some help...get these potatoes in the oven....never be ready for the church crowd."

A hand-written sign behind our table said "Sunday Special: Pork Chops and Scalloped Potatoes." I surmised that a breakfast rush had kept Pat from prepping her potatoes, and we all know how long homemade scalloped potatoes take to bake! I felt for her, and when the waitress came to take our order, we both ordered the simplest thing we could think of: a couple of eggs sunnyside-up, bacon and toast.

While we waited, we looked at the drawings and paintings that covered the walls -- many of them portraits of Pat. "Who's the artist?" I asked the waitress. "Pat's husband," she replied. "He usually helps in the kitchen, but he couldn't be here today." So that's why Pat was behind.

Things quieted down in the kitchen as Pat got to work. The sizzle and aroma of bacon filled the air. I said to my husband, "She can turn these eggs around pretty quick, and then she can get on those potatoes."

We were halfway through our perfectly fried eggs and deliciously crisp bacon when two cars and three motorcycles pulled into the parking lot within seconds of each other. A couple, a party of four, and three bikers came in. The waitress looked stricken. The pan-rattling started again, and I began to worry about poor Pat. There was no hope for the potatoes now.

I said to my husband, "I think I need to go back there and peel and slice potatoes for her, or she'll never make it." He calmly nixed that idea, although he understood where I was coming from. It's some kind of Old Broad Code of Conduct -- never abandon another old broad in her time of need. But a husband can trump that when push comes to shove.

While he paid for our breakfast, I ducked into the kitchen to give Pat a little encouragement. "You really have your hands full, don't you?" I said with a smile. Pat was beyond stressed. "I just don't know how I'm going to do it," she moaned. "I know you can do it," I answered, "And I'm praying that the preacher will have a good, long message today so church will let out really late!" That got a laugh, which was good enough for me.

Deb recommends:
Pat's Falling Rock Cafe
10281 Hwy. 50
Howard, Colorado

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Honeymoon Suite at the Rock-N-Row

My husband took me to the mountains for a romantic weekend. He knew a couple of great places because his friend had taken him to his own favorite destinations over July 4th weekend, and my husband had been saving them to share with me during my visit to Colorado.

We drove four hours into the mountains. You have to understand, driving into the Rocky Mountains is almost enough all by itself. It's a feast for the eyes, and the chronicler in me wanted to plaster a camera to my face and capture every image, every crag, every golden hillside, every purple flower, every cloud, every shadow of a cloud, every silver streak of snow-- but the light in the Rockies is a living, moving thing -- too fleeting for stop-action. So we just looked and exclaimed.

Our first stop was a hot springs camp hidden deep and high in the mountains, overlooking a vast fertile valley. The fence posts along the 8-mile dirt road leading to the camp were hung with shoes of every size -- some old, some new -- where, we decided, people who had just opted to stay at the springs forever had left the last thing that tied them to civilization. We spent the afternoon soaking in the warm healing waters and emerged rejuvenated and relaxed. You might find my shoes on a fence post there, someday.

We drove another hour and a half to the Rock-N-Row, the best rafting place on the Arkansas River, where my husband had scouted out a little cabin with a private beach on the river. It was one of three cabins used by the rafting guides during the season -- one of them was vacant, and it looked like just the place to my husband, at least from the outside. He didn't look inside.

We pulled in at about 7:00 in the evening. The main building was closed, but one of the guides was waiting for us. The private beach was noisily occupied by a large family who were camping on the property, so not so private, but the cabin was off to the side and it did face the river and had a nice little porch, so there were possibilities. Until I opened the door.

Picture this: a 10 by 10 foot wooden box with a double bed, a filthy rag of carpet, and a two-month layer of dust on a rickety wooden dresser. There were clean threadbare sheets on the bed that reeked of river guide. One of the pillows even had a pillowcase. A bare light bulb hung dead-center. A picture of Cochise was thumb-tacked to the wall. No bathroom. No running water.

My husband smiled hopefully at me and mumbled something about "right on the river." I tried to be a good sport. I investigated. The main building across the big yard had a toilet that was accessible, and there was a pump in the yard with clear, cold mountain water.

I thought back to earlier times when I would have rejected accommodations that didn't have a hair dryer. It's not all about me, I thought. I'm past that. It's right on the river. I determined to make the best of it. But the floor was so filthy I couldn't imagine taking off my shoes, and a night in that bed would be like sleeping in the boy's locker room at your local high school. And no running water.

I know I looked stricken, but I held my tongue. I tried to smile. I failed. Said my husband: "Do you want to go up the road to one of the motels instead?" YES! And so we did, and it was cozy and perfect. And right on the river.

The next day we went back to the Rock-N-Row for a thrilling whitewater rafting trip. I met the owner, who had booked the cabin for my husband and was surely curious about how the wife would react. "Sorry you went to the trouble of putting clean sheets in the Honeymoon Suite," I said. He laughed.

Deb recommends:
Cotopaxi, Colorado
Whitewater rafting, fishing, rock climbing, horse riding.
The best place on the Arkansas River.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rocky Falafel - The Feral Shih Tzu

In the diminutive lap-dog body of Falafel, my two-year old Shih Tzu, beats the heart of a feral alpha male. His size and undeniable cuteness elicit baby talk from strangers, and his googly-eyed gaze causes giggles, but he is, in truth, a predator and a guardian -- alert, ready to spring, ever watchful, and protective of his mistress.

The 5-hour plane trip from Birmingham to Denver in a pet carrier under a seat was a stretch for him. He likes to see what's going on around him from the highest possible vantage point. On the layover in Chicago, I let him out of the carrier as we sat in the waiting area at the gate. He stood at attention on my lap with the stance of a mountain goat and the focus of a hawk. Cuteness is just a disguise for this dog.

Now far from his home on a green and lush Alabama country road, Falafel watches the city below from the 15th floor terrace of our Denver apartment. A noise in the hall rouses him from a nap with a fierce bark that surely, for a potential intruder, conjures the image of the dog he truly is: large, toothy, not to be messed with.

We took Falafel with us on a day-trip into the foothills that make Denver the dead-end of the midwest -- the last outpost of civilization before the impossibly forbidding grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. We pulled off the road to explore some woods, and Falafel was in his element at last. He followed his nose with gleeful abandon, perched on rocks, investigated holes and shelters, and marked his new-found territory.

When we called him to get back in the car, he balked. He stopped and looked at us as if to say, "Thanks, I'll just stay here if it's all the same to you. You guys have been great, but this is where I belong."

So now Falafel, the king of cuteness, has a new add-on name: Rocky. When we call him Rocky Falafel, we see him as he sees himself: a feral prince of the Rocky Mountains, a carnivore who would surely be a one-bite meal on the Rocky Mountain food chain, but a predator nonetheless.