Monday, November 26, 2012

Idaho Potato Faux Pas

When the parental units told my siblings and I that we were moving to Idaho, I was only ten, and got Idaho confused with Iowa. Since that wasn't too far away from Pennsylvania where we lived, I told the friends I was leaving that we'd see them every now and then.

Just about the time we hit Illinois by car, it began to dawn on me that Idaho was a ways away.

Lots of things about the state I didn't have a heads up on. I envisioned everyone with horses in their back forties, living on ranch/farms. I found that it wasn't as rural as I'd expected, although our next-door-neighbors who lived in town did have a dry farm for potatoes up in the hills.

What I really would've appreciated a heads-up on was the fact that potatoes were really BIG in Idaho. People grew them, they ate them, they had them on their license plates. I was only ten and unaware, and no one sat me down for the Potato Talk.

Which is why the major social faux pas occurred.

Our new Idahoan neighbors invited us to dinner at their home. I had no idea what was cooking in the kitchen when we walked through the door, but it smelled delicious. While the woman of the home was bustling over last minute preparations for our meal, the man of the house made conversation with us in the living room. He asked each one of us a question. The one he sent my way was, "So, do you like potatoes?"

At ten, I was no less painfully honest than I am now. I thought about it for a half second, recalling my experience with potatoes in the past. My mother, who, bless her heart, was an uncreative cook, had often boiled potatoes until they were a colorless gray and covered them with a bland, saltless gravy. The texture all-round was actually pretty gross.

"No," I answered, "Not very much."

Insert here an image of the clock on the wall stopping, and several adult mouths falling open. In one fell swoop, I'd not only just insulted the cook (who had made us baked potatoes with an array of toppings to choose from, expecting to delight us with our very first introduction to Idaho potatoes), the man of the house (a potato farmer), and virtually the entire state, who took tremendous pride in their product.


Decades later, negative memories of watery gray blobs with flavorless gravy are long gone. Nowadays, I do like potatoes. Famous Idaho potatoes (refer to some of our vintage license plates), I've learned, are best baked, broiled or fried (my preference). The perfect potato is all in the preparation.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Wilson Ponds Walk

Wilson Ponds in Nampa holds the curiosity that can only belong to wilderness that's been planted right in the middle of suburbia.

On a windless morning or evening, you can hear Skyview High School's marching band practicing out in their parking lot, less than a mile away, while at the same time viewing native grasses,  and marshy areas with a plethora of cattails. A strange contrast among   nesting birds and burrowing critters who find their homes at the Ponds, but the animals are no doubt used to the music by now.

Although this morning had a crisp autumn bite to it, when blogger Erica Diamond suggested a sunrise walk via Twitter, the idea was planted with no turning back.

I've walked at Wilson a time or two, and have begun to notice some regulars. A man with the name HENRY solidly announced on his ball cap. (Is this a brand, or is this his actual name? I haven't been bold enough to inquire.) This morning I saw an older gentleman with a woolen cap, side braids and pom-pom moving with him as he took each determined step.

"Are you wearing enough clothes?" he asked me, a rather personal question, but I was game to answer.

"You warm up once you get moving fast enough," I told him.

"Bah!" he said, swatting his hand into the air and walking away.

Henry was next on the paved pathway, smiling and nodding like the last time, but not speaking, also like last time. I passed the Duck Tree where I once noticed a dozen ducks perched. I have questions about this, not knowing ducks liked to hang out in trees or hold onto branches with their webbed feet.

I encountered the man with the pom-pom hat again on the return.

"Warming up yet?" he asked. Then he said, "You should talk to that guy over there," and he vaguely gestured with his hands over 'that-a-way', "He's ninety!"

He paused, then shared, "I'm eighty and he's got ten years on me."

Safe to assume he was saying that the ninety-year old was out walking, too.

"I plan to live until I'm at least ninety-five," I told the Pom-Pom Man.

"Keep walkin'!" he told me with a smile and nod of his woolen-covered head as he walked away, calling, 'Have a good mornin'!' over his shoulder.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sun Valley: Music in the Mountains

I'd heard of this jazzjamboreefest thing for years from my friend, Janet.

Her family had made a tradition of it, attending each and every year.

"The baseball is always on, he always liked to watch baseball," said Janet's mom with her cute New England accent, "That's just how we do the jazz festival."

She clicked on the large screen tv and rested herself on the plush sofa behind a newspaper as the game blared happily in the background. I knew she was referring to her late husband, who'd passed a few years back. They'd both loved this time of year in Sun Valley.

Comfortably seated in the elegant living room of our condo, what I thought would be a simple setup turned out to be the Sun Valley Inn's finest, on a corner with our own private entryway. We each had our own bedrooms, and the floors and walls in the bathrooms were marble. Everywhere we looked was old school and upscale.

"You'll need this to keep your strength up," said Janet's mom, presenting my friend and I with a tray of Havarti and herbed crackers with a dainty knife. Since we were hungry after our journey to the valley of the sun, we didn't eat daintily.

After partaking, we left the suite and walked out into the fresh air. Fall in that area is a sight to behold, and it smells like you're atop a mountain peak. We crunched through the leaves to the opera house, where I got my first taste of live, world-class jazz. I found that I'm an involved listener that can't sit without tapping something. A toe, a couple of fingers. Something had to be moving whilst this rhythm was about. We stayed for almost an hour, then took a break.

If you've ever been in Sun Valley, you'll see multiple evidences of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was their guy. Photos of him line the walls of the Sun Valley Lodge (a sister establishment of the SV Inn), and it's obvious that he's revered here. I had never read much of his work, and was intrigued by the mystique of the late writer. I asked Janet and her mother what they knew.

"I started to read his book once," Janet's mom told me as we dined at Gretchen's.
"And?" I asked.
"--And I don't remember if I ever finished it," she told me, matter-of-factly, as is her style.

"I've read several of them," said Janet, "They were good," she added, not elaborating.

I decided to research the author myself. One thing I did know was that he was fond of talking with the common person, people who wouldn't ordinarily get noticed. This is a passion of mine, believing that no person is uninteresting or unimportant. Because people have blessed me with sharing their inner secrets and dreams, I've been privy to the most sacred of tales. I knew this was a commonality.

That night, we entered the Limelight Room and found the place to be hopping. There was a larger crowd here than in any other venue so far. I didn't yet get the attraction. Just minutes into the performance, I got it. The band, High Street, was extremely interactive. The lead singer had a way of engaging the audience that few groups came even close to. Now High Street, I thought, where have I heard that name before?

It wasn't until the lead singer introduced the trombone player as 'The Mayor of Nampa' that it dawned on me. These guys were Canyon County people! That was our mayor! And High Street....weren't they the band the Civic Center had hired for the New Years Eve Party, the one that was said to get everyone out of their seats?

I looked around. People of all ages were hitting the dance floor, and even the seniors were moving in ways I'd bet money on they hadn't moved all year. People were throwing their heads back, laughing and gleeful. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Both nights we stayed up too late, ate too much, and we were hoarse from talking over the music. Loved every minute of it. We sat in the lobby by the fireplace, strolled through the gift shoppes, hiked around the hills.

On Sunday, our golden-rust colors outdoors changed to more of a pristine white. It began to snow, with big, fat flakes that fell without apology. The combination of the autumn colors, mixed with a pure white blanket on the ground created a stunning effect. We almost reverently walked down the quiet, richly carpeted hallways of the Inn to where a Sunday Jazz service was offered. Being from a rather conservative religious background, a Sunday Jazz service raised an inquisitive eyebrow with me. I wasn't expecting a spiritual experience, but I was wrong. That is exactly what I got.

If you've never heard world-class jazz musicians play and sing the hymn 'Come Thou Fount', or 'How Great Thou Art', your life is not complete. I shed tears, I did. I realized that this magical week was coming to a close, and I didn't like the thought of that. After seeing the performers giving their all for hours on end, interacting with the other jazz enthusiasts for days, and making so many new friends, it was a melancholy thing.

I noticed that the woman sitting in the chair beside had been singing, and that she had a pretty voice. After the service's benediction, I commented on her beautiful singing, asking her if she'd done that in a group or professionally. She laughed and said no, that it was her husband, Harland Belisle, that was the musician. She told me he'd passed away some years back. Then she blew my mind by telling me she remembered sitting with her husband in the Jamboree organizer's living room in the late eighties, helping to create this venue. I just blinked. Really?

I couldn't help but ask her what it felt like, over two decades later, to see so many people coming from all over the world to attend an event she helped to organize. She remembered helping people to park, taking tickets, and so many other things. This woman now lived out of town, but had the opportunity this year to attend with friends. And there she was, sitting right next to me. I felt as though I'd just met royalty.

The Jamboree was over, we were settled back into our comfortable suite.

"Amy," Janet's mom said, "I grabbed this paper before I left Boise. They have an article in here about Hemingway, and since you've been curious about him, I thought you might like to read it." She slid me Saturday's paper. Front page and back were devoted to none other than Ernest Hemingway. I devoured the information, then jerked my head back with a start.

"He wrote 200-plus pages of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' at the Sun Valley Lodge!" I exclaimed. "In room 206!"

I read that many fans had made pilgrimages to that room...and it was literally steps away from mine. Since Janet's mom had to leave town early, we said goodbye and then did the Hemingway tour. Janet took a picture of me with my hand on the knob of door 206. We drove off in search of the little museum I remembered from seven years ago that contained Hemingway memorabilia. I had no clue where it was located. Almost by accident, I noticed a 'Ski Museum' sign on the side of a cluster of white cottages. Memory awakened and I knew this was it.

Janet hopped out to see if they were open.

"It's closed," she told me, shaking her head. She'd tried the door and no luck.

Something made me exit the car and tromp through the snow towards the front door of the main cabin, anyway. I tried the handle and found it to be unlocked. I entered, with Janet following behind. There were three women in there, reorganizing the building. That day was their first day of slack time. I told them I'd remembered a Hemingway display from years ago, and asked if it was still around. They said yes, but that they were now closed for slack time, and wouldn't reopen until December. Upon seeing my disappointment, one woman told me that she'd unlock the Hemingway building just for us, and that we could take all the time we wanted. I'm sure I beamed like a little kid.

Once in the building, the woman turned the lights on. She told us she'd just finished attending a Hemingway Symposium last weekend, with all the Hemingway-Heads and groupies. I had no idea people got this nutty about one person, but then again look at what I'd done that morning. I asked what her opinion was. She gave me the summation.

"Some people loved him, some couldn't stand the guy. A lot of people thought he was the greatest thing ever, many people thought he was a jerk. It just depends on who you are, and how you want to look at him."

Just then I turned, and was startled to see HIM looking at ME. A life-sized photo of Ernest's face was aligned with mine, and was staring straight at me, and with such a poignant look! What does it mean, I asked myself, what do you want of me, Mr. Hemingway? Do you know I'm a writer? Do you know that I like to interview everyone and anyone? Do you know how ingrained that writer's blood is for me? Why did you call me here?

The woman left us to look, read, and ponder.

The guy had four wives, a depression problem, and he ended up shooting himself. How am I supposed to get a role model out of that?

But, on the flipside, he was an artist, a lover of the word.
This I could relate to.

I stared at his photo, the one of him as an older man with white hair and a sad look in his eyes, not the other robust movie-star like photos of him that surrounded it. He loved to write in the mornings, mornings were for writing. He loved the Fall, same here. He treated children, the elderly, the underprivileged like they mattered, something I've always tried to do. Huh.

When we returned to the main cabin to thank the museum women, Janet told them, "She's a writer!"

They said, "We really need writers to promote us after slack time. This year we're going to expand our Hemingway section, and we need people to create blogs and articles about that, would you be willing to do that for us? Come back and see us, take some pictures, and whatnot?"

I said that I would, making a mental note and promise to myself not to become a Hem-Head groupie. We'll see how that goes.

Thank you, Jazz Jamboree organizers, thank you Sun Valley, and thank you Hemingway.

For a Fest-full of photos, click here.

We had a very memorable visit. I'll be back to write about your guy, your mountains, and your music.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!