DEER FLIES AND A VEGGIE DINNER, WHEN SNOW TURNS TO SLUSH THOUGHTS TURN TO FOOD, AND SOMETIMES NOTHING HORRIBLE HAPPENS

Deerflies and Dave’s Vegetarian Dinner 

I wrote in the last posting that at one point in my life I was a vegetarian.  At another point in my life I stopped being a vegetatian.  So, why did I stop?  I really missed hamburgers, I wasn’t certain of my commitment to the goals of vegetarianism in light of my consumption of ‘Snickers’ bars and Jack Daniels (not necessarily at different times) and I found that you could mix Red Zinger Herbal Tea with Yukon Jack for a truly comforting drink appropriate to three seasons of the year (yes, it could be stretched to four seasons). 

I also used to backpack, rock climb and cross country ski.  Looking at me now you would never believe this.  You would give more credence to my being a vegetarian.  I along with friends and family backpacked a lot in the 1970’s.  On these expeditions I discovered that I really hate deer flies.  The northeast plague from God three seasons of the year.  They swarm around you with this horrid buzzing sound.  I recall that I would start to whimper when I heard that sound because I knew what was to follow.  A gazillion flies would swoop and dive at my head from every direction, trying to distract me from the main attack.  My hands would flail about my head but I was powerless from keeping them from attacking the back of my head where I couldn’t see them to swat them.  They would land on the back of my head and one would take a huge freakin’ bleeding bite out of my scalp with a mouth that, when only slightly magnified, looks like a razor sharp pair of hedge shears.  Then, after that one has bitten and started the blood flowing, several gazillion ADDITIONAL deer flies swarm into a feeding frenzy that makes a shark feeding frenzy look like Disney World.  As I’m swarmed by fifty gazillion deer flies I find myself running, falling, stumbling blindly through the woods.  My hands flailing around my head, child birth like screams issuing from my mouth.  I run until I hit that tree trunk head on, fall to the ground and am eaten alive by the deer flies. Honest injun.

09-1006-the blog-AMC trail guide cover

So, I did my backpacking in the late fall and winter, often going out for several days with my trusty Kelty D4 pack on my back, and my feet strapped onto a pair of Bonna 2000 wooden cross country skis.   On one of these expeditions I drove from Providence, Rhode Island to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, got to the trailhead, strapped my skis on, got my pack on and headed into the mountains.  It was full blown winter, with lots of nice snow on the ground and no deer flies. 

I probably skied about seven miles in to a campsite by a river.  It was getting late in the day, and dark.  I set up my tent and started to prepare dinner.  This was so long ago that most of the rivers and streams in the higher elevations of the White Mountains were safe to drink from without any water treatment.  So, not wanting to waste time and stove fuel melting snow for water, I went to the river bank to get water to begin to prepare the vegetarian food fest that I was planning on having for dinner.  Yep, still a practicing vegetarian at the time.  At the river bank the ice extended a little ways out from the bank before you could get to flowing water. 

Being cautious and woodly wise I got a fairly big branch and pounded the ice with the end of it to make absolutely certain that the ice would hold me as I reached for flowing water.  Of course, when I stepped onto the ice I crashed through up to my knees in freezing water.  This should surprise none of you readers, but it sure as HELL surprised me.

I was so surprised that I sprang to the top of the river bank in a single leap – that whole adrenalin thing.  Shivering more than a little, I went for a dry pair of socks.  None to be found.  Dry long undies?  None to be found.  Didn’t I pack those?  OK, at least we can have a nice vegan dinner.  Dinner was to be reconstituted with boiling water, which was actually near boil before I knocked it over into the cold snow.  OK, I can boil more water – and I did!  I don’t remember exactly what dinner consisted of, probably: dried lotus root, dried onion, some dried seaweed, and maybe rice or buckwheat groats, LOTS of seasoning.  And before too long, dinner was actually ready to eat. 

This dinner tasted absolutely foul. I give this spawn of the devil an undeserved compliment by calling it dinner.  Its taste was so foul that to this very day I have nightmares about it.  In these nightmares executioners are holding on my back on a table.  They keep promising to feed me canned peas and spam, things that taste good in comparison to what I had made.  Just as they’re about to feed me the peas and spam, they whisk in the vegetarian mistake and put a shovel-sized serving in my mouth.  That’s how bad the vegetarian dinner tasted – canned peas and spam taste better. 

I wouldn’t have fed that mistake to my worst enemies (Yeah, I have a list).  New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife would probably have fined me for leaving this foulness out for the wildlife to eat if the wildlife had dared to even approach it.  So, I am wet, I’m cold, it’s dark and it’s the middle of winter, I’m stuck with food so incredibly bad that I wouldn’t eat it and I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing here. It was good weather, but it was winter in the mountains and a damn cold night was coming on. 

I DON’T HAVE TO STAND FOR THIS!  It was a beautiful full moon that lit up the mountains and the forest like the lights that they have on search helicopters when they’re hunting you down (not that I’d know anything about that).  I packed up camp and headed back.  It was a nice, gentle, downhill ski back to the car.  I loaded everything in, started it, turned the heater to HIGH and in the dead of night drove four hours back to Providence.  Several of the incidents that day were bad.  But, none were as unforgivable and terminal as the bad vegetarian dinner.

 

When Snow Turns To Slush, Thoughts Turn To Food 

In addition to the backpacking, my brothers and I, with our wives and girlfriends, spent a lot of time cross country skiing together in New England, in the 1970’s.   Of course, as with all things Grunwald, what would the skiing be without food!  For hot drinks we had a mulled red wine seasoned with Constant Comment tea; a Vino Caldo, which was perfect for the occasion, actually perfect for any hot mulled wine occasion.  The Vino Caldo – Constant Comment Red Wine Punch became a staple for the Grunwald family in the North Country winter and to this day holds a place at out winter table.  Of course, there were other libations; man cannot exist on mulled wine alone.  The food?  We stayed, as I remember, at relatively nice Inns and enjoyed their breakfasts and dinners.  It was the outdoor lunch cuisine that was of ours to develop.  We were skiing, physically exerting ourselves.  The usual sitting in the grass listening to a concert menu would not suffice.  The food had to sustain us in our winter skiing workout and, therefore, had to be appropriately hearty.  In addition to the thermoses filled with the hot mulled wine there were ‘Bota Bags’ filled with wine or Jack Daniels, gorp (raisins, M&M’s and peanuts), hard sausages, pepperoni, Screaming Yellow Zonkers, cheeses and crackers, maybe some dips and spreads.  I’m sure that brownies and baguettes were in there somewhere.  We carried packs of substantial size.  We knew that we absolutely needed this food to carry us through the heavy duty exertions of cross country skiing in the mountains and valleys of New England.  We disdained, unless we were tired or hung over, the groomed trail.  For us it was breaking trail through virgin snow!  We had been schooled well in winter lore.  We knew that without these large quantities of calorie laden food there was the distinct possibility of, dare we say it, death on the winter trail.  I am certain that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) will attest to this.  It is a documented fact that in certain areas of the White Mountains of New Hampshire a full grown man can, in the winter, starve to death in twenty minutes.  In the three hundred thirty five years that the AMC has been keeping records of winter deaths, no dead body has ever been found dead carrying a pack full of food and two or three ‘Bota Bags’.

 07-0928-dinner diaries-constant comment & red wine punch

THE CONSTANT COMMENT RED WINE PUNCH

                     

In that pristine and Godly countryside evil found us when the weather changed for the worse.  When blue skies, fluffy clouds and sun glittery snow gave way to pouring rain, sleet, ice and more pouring rain, we confined ourselves to the rooms at the Inn.  I’m not skiing in the rain any sooner than I’d eat a bad vegetarian dinner.   What to do, what to do?  Turn on the 1970’s television that got two or three channels, bring out the board (could be spelled bored) games, break open a book, relax and enjoy the kinship? 

Evil manifests itself to those souls imprisoned in this room by the unskiable weather.  Oh, it initially showed itself in a guise of innocence, but start it did and it would not leave until it was done with the devils’ work. One of us would say, at about nine o’clock in the morning, fifteen minutes or so after breakfast, “Does anybody know which backpack the gorp is in, I think I’ll have just a little bit.”  Ah, the beginning, so innocuous, so utterly normal.  About three minutes later someone else would be infected by the evil and say, “Why don’t you just put the gorp in this bowl.  I’m sure that everybody wants a little.”  When evil was certain that it had, to greater or lesser degrees, touched all in that room, the true madness would begin with someone saying, at about ten o’clock in the morning, “What the hell, I’m going to crack open one of the thermoses of mulled wine.”  The mulled wine was followed by the pepperoni, than the cheeses, then more mulled wine, then the Screaming Yellow Zonkers, the Jack Daniels and then it was noon and time for lunch. 

At this point in the day we were all a little bleary eyed, the boards for the board games had been ripped in half so that we could ‘ride’ them down the mattresses that were piled against the wall to replicate a ski slope, the television was tilted on its side so that the picture was properly aligned with your head when you were lying on the floor and the toilet had stopped working.  Evil, evil, evil.

The Bacchanal continued through the day.  We were in fact eating all of the food and drink that we had planned on consuming if we were skiing and burning 1,000 calories an hour for the entire day rather than sitting on our butts in our nicely appointed room maybe, and I’m being optimistic on this thought, burning 10 calories an hour reading a book.  OK, truth is that we were not burning ANY calories an hour.  We were in fact gaining about 5 pounds an hour as we wolfed down all of the food and drink that we had meant to partake of to insure our survival while skiing.  Evil had done its work and was ready to administer the coup de grace – always – the inevitable question, “What time do you guys want to go have dinner?”

And Sometimes Nothing Horrible Happens

Yes, we Grunwald boys do like to eat.    If you’re wondering, one brother’s in great physical shape and the other brother and I are our own persons.  Many of our family events, while not centering on food, have managed to include a goodly amount of food.  I recall a day-long concert at Tanglewood in the Massachusetts Berkshires that featured Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.  Great Freakin’ Concert!  The family attendees: the three brothers and one brother’s wife.  Beautiful weather, great music and, of course, enough food to sustain for the duration of the concert and into the next decade if necessary – be prepared.

You may be picturing in your mind the beautiful, genteel lawn dining of Tanglewood patrons during the Boston Pops Concerts: cloth tablecloths set on the green sward atop hand woven cashmere lawn blankets, perhaps two or three directors chairs for the older folks, cloth napkins, silverware, fine crystal and candelabras.  It was a different scene at ‘Willie and Emmylou’s’.

A blanket on the ground (no lawn chairs, as we were still in our 20’s and our hip and knee joints were still flexible), paper napkins, paper plates and plastic cups.  I’m quite certain that we smuggled in something alcoholic, had to have.  Probably not a martini at that time in my life, but I sure hope that it wasn’t one of those ‘Midori Things’.

The usual menu of cheeses, crackers, dips, smoked oysters, nuts, pepperoni, meats, Screaming Yellow Zonkers (come on folks, some of you’ve got to remember those), sandwiches, chips, cookies, cake and candies.  As it was summer, there was no hot mulled wine.  We brought all of this in a full-size portable cooler, oh and backpacks too.  The kind of cooler that you might put 3 or 4 days worth of food and drink in.  Some people were outright staring at us as we commenced our bacchanal.  Staring at us?  These folks just didn’t understand the finer points of picnicking.  The finer points of picnicking being that it required food.  We assumed that they staring at us because they were jealous of the bounty we had brought – in comparison to the meager amounts of food they had brought. So what finally happened? Who got caught skinny dipping in front of 1,000 concertgoers?  No one.  Neither Kev or Mitch, not Shawn and not me. 

Nothing out of the ordinary happened except for my trying to pass myself off as the photographer for the RISD student paper so that I could take photos of Emmylou and Willie (my press credentials – my college ID card – were not found to be acceptable).  We had a great time, lots of food, beautiful weather, a gorgeous venue and the music of Emmylou and Willie.  The Grunwald Event Disaster that usually hovers over us did not make an appearance the beautiful day.  And, dare I say it?  Food may not have been the prime factor that day – but it sure wouldn’t have been the same without it.  

08-0617-Tanglewood-the Grunwald's

                                        TANGLEWOOD – Beauty and the Beasts

Dessert:  Dinner With New Friends

A few weeks ago four of us had the pleasure of being invited to dinner at the home of a couple who are mutual friends of us four.  The circumstances of how the four of us met the other couple bear telling.  K., J., Bonnie and I were slowly meandering our way back to K. and J.’s for a glass of wine after a town fest on a spring soft late afternoon when we happened to fall in step with R. and A..   K. is one of the most outgoing and vibrant people I’ve met and she easily engaged R. and A., folks that we had never met before, in conversation, inviting them to join us.  And they did. 

I probably wouldn’t want to invite folks that I’d never met before into my home.  I admire K. for being able to do so; to be so willing to engage with the unknown.  I sometimes wonder what I’ve missed by not being particularly spontaneous.

The upshot of all of this is that R. and A. have become friends and A. did serve of us a spectacular dinner; opening their home and themselves to us.  Again, it gets back to my pet theme.  That theme being that life is best when we all sit down around the table to share both the food and who we are with others.  I would like to think that A. enjoyed preparing the dinner as much as I do. As long as you want to do it you just can’t help but enjoy it.  The menu:

–         Empanadas stuffed with confit of duck, corn relish and butternut squash puree (courtesy of Dave)

–         Heirloom tomato tart (courtesy of K.)

–         Spicy seared scallops on a bed of wilted spinach.

–         Butternut squash soup.

–         Homemade fettuccini with garlic, basil and cheeses.

–         Pork tenderloin with baby red onions.

–         Chocolate cake with strawberries.

 

Next Week: Swintbn and Martinis; The Grape, The Garbage Disposal and the Hibachi and The Italian Market and Four Star Hotels

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