Oh dear, I just realized that I’m going to show you my vacation photos.
If you were stuck in my living room, eating popcorn on the couch, squished too close to the person next to you, there would be no escape. Here, however, you can easily flip to the next blog you are thinking about reading to avoid working. Go ahead.
Oh good. Now, the rest of you left? Settle in. I’d like to do my best to share something about the quietly wonderful trip we took to Moab and Colorado last week.
Mostly, though, there are no words for a place like this.
Last week was tough, as it was for many people, thinking about Jennie. The loss of her much-loved husband propelled so many of us to think about our own lives, consider the loss we might sustain, and hopefully remain in the present moment, appreciating, for just a touch longer than normal. That Jennie and I are good friends, and talked and texted every day, made the sadness a bit closer to the surface for me. But thousands of uswere hurting.
And thousands of people made a peanut butter pie in honor of Mikey. We were on planes, traveling to Grand Junction, Colorado, on the day people posted their pies. Every time I had a moment on a layover, I opened up Twitter to see the conversation happening. The flood of love and beautifully photographed pies astounded me. So did the fact that Eatocracy on CNN wrote this up. So did the Food Network blog (check that link to see hundreds of other links). Thousands of people across this country (and Canada and other places too) took the time to make a pie together with their family members or friends. Jennie, you’re an amazing woman, taking care of the rest of us. You gave us something to do with all this sadness.
Still, by the time we reached Moab, I was exhausted. Up late the night before (making peach conserve just before midnight so that batch of ripe peaches didn’t go to waste), getting up at 4:30 to catch an early-morning ferry, two flights with a layover in Salt Lake City, all with a three-year-old? Danny and I were dragging.
However, as soon as we hugged everyone, and unpacked our bags a bit, I stepped out onto the deck of the lodge where were were all staying and saw this.
The immensity of that red-stone mesa, which has been around for 100 million years, and that open blue sky? They restored me.
My sadness felt small and so did my joy in comparison to all that time.
This is where I needed to be.
We three were in Moab, Utah for an Ahern family reunion. Danny’s mother, his four siblings, and most of their children filled two cabins to the brim with laughter, stories, and long legs. There weren’t enough beds the older kids slept on the porch. No one seemed to mind much. Lu was just excited about her new sunglasses and the sight of her cousins. “I play with my cousins!” she mumbled in her sleep when we transferred her to the car at 4:40 in the morning. The reality of them, instead of the imagining of them she had done by staring at photos for weeks before, was a little overwhelming. But within a few hours, she was bounding back and forth between the couch and the deck, singing and giggling among them.
For weeks there had been phone calls back and forth, wondering what each family would be making for their assigned meal. This is a family that likes food. We all lugged groceries and ingredients from homes or the local store. However, when we reached the cabins, we realized with horror that the kitchens that came with them? They only contained cupboards, a tiny coffee maker, a microwave, and four forks, knives, and spoons. Four. No stove, no oven, no grills. Nothing to cook on.
(The lodge has a restaurant. They wanted us to eat there.)
We all looked befuddled, then laughed. That wouldn’t stop us. We’d figure it out. After all, the Ahern family motto is “We rise through difficulties.”
Patty had brought pans of enchiladas, entirely gluten-free, frozen for the trip. We thawed them out, then microwaved individual portions. Before our rafting trip down the Colorado, we ate sandwiches at the table (I ate the luncheon meat and cheese without bread) while all 16 of us talked and talked. For dinner, Danny shaved kernels off corn cobs with a dull knife, tore basil leaves and fresh mozzarella, cut up chunks of tomato, and dressed it all with lime juice. Danny’s mother, always resourceful, had made pan after pan of spaghetti pie, with one disposable pan made with gluten-free pasta for me.
It was all delicious. Filling. Hot. Just what we needed.
The peach I ate in the middle of a raft, in 100-degree weather, on the Colorado river might have been the most welcome bite of food I’ve ever eaten.
The food on this trip wouldn’t make it into a magazine. But it was all tremendous for sharing it with family.
And I remembered again what I keep learning more deeply: it’s all about the gathering.
All that mattered is that we were together.
This is part of the family on the deck, after dinner, sitting in the receding heat, talking. That’s Danny up there, or a bit of his hair, in the deck chair.
I never see him so relaxed as he is with his family.
We could have eaten anything that night. Food was only the instigator for conversation, the warm feeling in our bellies as we sat together.
The time in Moab was far too brief. Two nights — not much sleep for the heat — one full day, and a morning together. Before dispersing, we made our way through Arches National Park. The place silenced me. All that sky and beauty, the precarious balancing, and stone whittled thin by wind and time it all moved me deeply.
So did my time with the Aherns. I lucked out with these in-laws. They make me feel like one of them.
Especially on this trip, I felt the force of family. I love my family, and we are lucky enough to live close to each other. My parents come over every Saturday morning to spend time with Lu. (She dances, mostly.) However, Danny lives far away from his family, whom we only get to see once a year, maybe twice.
This time was a gift.
Luckily, we didn’t have to say goodbye to everyone just yet.
We spent the next two days with Danny’s brother, Pat, and his wonderful wife, Julie. I swear, their kitchen is the one I dream of someday: open, enormous windows, space to move freely, planned thoughtfully. They have a living room, but we spent about three minutes there. We only hit the bedrooms to sleep. The entire visit was spent in the kitchen, cooking and talking, or sitting at the table, eating and talking. We ate gluten-free pizza on their beautiful back patio (the crust came from a Bob’s Red Mill package). No one complained. In fact, Danny’s sister, Kathy, kept saying how much she adored it.
That time after the dinner, the just after, is still my favorite.
The next day, while Pat and Julie had to work, Danny and I took Lucy and Cooper into Telluride.
This is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. And what a day we received!
The gondola, the walking, the hugs.
Of course, the only thing Lucy cared about was the chance to be next to Cooper, her favorite cousin.
(And how much he has grown since our wedding!)
Possibly my favorite moment of the entire vacation happened in the kitchen, however.
In the morning, I asked Cooper if he wanted to help me make a smoothie. He put peaches, kiwi, blueberries, and bananas into the blender, along with soy milk and ice cubes. His face was filled with anticipation, listening to the blender whirl. After we drank them, he looked at me and said, “Wow, I never knew cooking could be this much fun. Could we cook some more?”
So we set up some peaches, lemon juice, and sugar to make into jam later. And we planned a menu, based on Cooper’s favorite foods: shrimp cocktail, smoked trout on crackers with cream cheese, roast chicken, quinoa, salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and peach pie.
Later in the evening, we convened in the kitchen to cook. Pat, Julie, and Kathy sat at the kitchen island, watching and taking photographs. I showed Cooper how to slice up peaches. Danny put his hand on Lucy’s and helped her to slice them too. Together, we made a pie crust. Peach pie in August. Gluten-free.
By the time we were ready to eat, the sun was hitting the clouds with rosy intensity. We all stood in the cool air, trying to capture it with our cameras. We didn’t.
Julie lit the candles that lined the table, then turned on the Christmas lights (solar-powered). We all sat at the table, late in the evening, marveling at the kids’ work. (Cooper beamed.) Everything tasted better for being with family.
Lately, there’s one word that goes through my head repeatedly: gathering.
Years ago, when I first started this site, I was fascinated with the new, the unusual, the most interesting food. Some of those foods like quinoa, pomegranate molasses, and goat cheese have become mundane pleasures. These days, however, I only have one passion for food.
I want to make food that invites gatherings.
That could be a four-course meal. It could be some crackers and cheese. It could be one ripe peach.
With all this loss in our lives, and the thought of how many more losses await us as we grow older, Danny and I both know what we want.
We want to sit at the table with people we love and hold those moments dear.