Lean Into the Light!

Lean Into the Light!

I have a lot to say this week, so if you're not interested in hilarity, vicariously living out our vacation or learning about dining out and how a restaurant SHOULD work, well...turn back now.

For those of you who've decided to take the plunge, hold on. It's a snow-covered, icy ride.

And that's how we started. We left for an easy drive to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort early Monday morning to try to beat the snow. And it almost worked. Until we were about 20 miles out. You see, they were calling for a blizzard and up to 12" in the mountains. To back track a bit, we decided I would drive. My car is a little sturdier in the snow and my inner MN girl still loves to drive in the snow. Dave hates it. Really, truly hates it. So when we hit that 20 mile mark and I was driving closer to the center lane or off to the side to get better traction and off the ice he pulled the classic lean to the other side of the car move. You know, to balance out the weight of my 5,600 pound Sequoia and keep it firmly planted on the road. Thankfully it seemed to work and combined with my Minnesotan roots we prevailed and powered through.

We had grand plans of spending the evening at the Lariat for live music and their New Year's party, but once the snow started coming down we knew there was no way we were driving into town and back that night. So Dave called to make a reservation for the Mt. Princeton New Year's Dinner. Sold out. Very sold out, with a waitlist. They told him there was no way we would make the list. Dave was not happy - I had told him that we probably didn't need to call the day before (whoops...). But I am not easily deterred, so I called back. And I got the nicest lady on the phone who said she would try her very hardest and let us know if there were cancellations. And that she would write GUESTS!! on the waitlist since guests have preference. Kindness always wins. We had a lovely 5-7 minute conversation about anything and nothing and we moved on with our day.

Just to be certain that we were covered for SOMETHING for New Year's Dinner, we stopped at the local grocery. And these two chefs that you know and love picked up cold cuts, hoagie rolls and condiments. Yep, that was our big backup plan for New Year's Dinner.

Then we headed from BV to Mt Princeton. Dave's winter driving fears were realized as we came down the windy, twisting road into the hot springs. But, again we made it safely and even picked up a couple who abandoned their car to walk the last 1.5 miles. It was that hairy. And I loved it ;)

The resort was wonderful and got us checked in early, so we headed to our room. And my grand plan was to work for a bit, then off we would go to the hot springs. Only their wifi is terrible. Which was wonderful. No laptop or phones in the room. HEAVEN. So off we went. After steaming and hot spring-ing our afternoon away we came back to a ringing phone with Gary the restaurant manager letting me know that they squeezed us in - at 5:40. You're an angel, Gary!! No hoagies for us!

And now the story really starts. I'm going to depart from the vacation (hot springs, nap, steam room, more hot springs, repeat...) and move onto our dining experiences, because they deserve it.

We arrived at our 5:40 reservation right on time. I'll be honest, our expectations for the evening were not high, but we were so happy to have reservations that it didn't even matter. They had a lovely 4-course tasting menu for the special night. And it looked great until the air quotes started. Beef "Wellington", "Jardiniere", "butter"??? We hate to be those people at a restaurant, but please remember that both Dave & I have spent many years of our careers writing menus. And air quotes have special meaning. For more on that read Dave's (click here) when you're done with this one. It's worth it.

I feel terrible about this, but we never got our server's name. And he made our night. He greeted us, then speedily rushed us into ordering drinks and food in a happy and peaceful manner. I had to ask about the "Wellington". I wanted it, but fear won out. And after I saw it, I know I made the right decision. Again, click here to read more about that on Dave's blog. I ended up bemusedly ordering the Corvina Sea Bass. I just used corvina two weeks ago in a class, and it is not a sea bass. Not sure what I was going to get, I was pleasantly surprised with sea bass and definitely not corvina (which is not quite as nice). Our food was wonderful, from start to finish. Big kudos to their kitchen. But my very favorite part of the dining experience was our server. He was so earnest, sweet and lovely. My favorite part of the evening was when he just walked up to our table and said (with no context): "I like to write myself a letter at the end of tonight every year, then read it on the following New Year. I'm going to read mine tonight." Both Dave and I awkwardly thought he was about to read us his letter. But no. Phew. He was just encouraging us to do the same. Then somehow he asked what we do for a living and we told him. Gulp. I think we made him nervous. There were things lacking - food & wine knowledge, timing, etc. But his attitude was so amazing and his overall demeanor so endearing that we loved every minute of it. We left fat and happy. So fat and happy that we promptly fell asleep at 7pm and missed the New Year's Party and festivities. But I'm a-ok starting our year off with sleep!

Cue breakfast...

We slept for 9 hours and woke up HUNGRY!! So off to the restaurant (yep, same one) for breakfast. By the way, it's a stunning dining room with an amazing setting. So the crisp, snowy setting was beautiful. And here we go again...Our server was the very same woman that I had talked to on the day before and the one that had worked so hard to get us a reservation. She was lively, hilarious and a great start to the day. Dave said something to her that prompted the south and one of our favorite interactions of the whole trip started:

Her: "I should know, I'm from the south."

Dave, "Oh, Where are you from in the south?"

Her, "I'm not from the south."

...Who's on first, anyone?

And because we can't let things go and HAVE to ask questions we now know that when she got her very first smart phone for some reason she searched Venice, Louisiana. And it just showed a tiny shrimping town. So she decided the smart phone must not be showing everything in the town, so she picked up and moved there to find out. The smart phone was right, that was all there was. So now she's back. And have you ever seen an alligator gar? It's the freakiest fish she's ever seen. Here's a picture. You're welcome. And yeah, we left and Googled Venice, LA. Better her than me... Whew. I needed a massage after that. Off we go.

After some more hot springs, we're hungry again and ready for lunch. I blame the mountain air. So we're off to the restaurant. Again. And Gary is still there - does the man ever leave? This time it seems like all chaos has ensued. Our breakfast server is headed home as we head to our table. Time for a new experience! This time our server seems frazzled and stressed, but pleasant. We order. I ordered a BLT and Onion Rings (don't judge, it isn't nice). Dave ordered soup and a salad. Show off. Our food comes and my desired onion rings have been replaced with soup. I point it out and she heads back to the kitchen. Again, one of my favorite moments of the trip. She comes back and says that the kitchen ran out of onion rings. I've worked in many a kitchen. Generally when that happens you go back to the table, inform them, then let them order a different side of their choosing. Instead, I got soup. I still have a vision in my head of our server and a cook having a conversation that ends with "She looks like she likes soup. Give her soup." The soup was great, and they unwittingly monitored my New Year's diet, so no harm no foul. She took 20% off our bill and we happily waddled off for our couples massage.

My whole point to this very long-winded story is that sometimes you have to just let go of the little things. Would these thing normally bother us? Probably. But the beauty of each interaction we had, all in the same restaurant, was that they were genuine, caring people who really were trying to provide the best experience they could. And each was was vastly different. But charming, entertaining and the food was good at every single meal.

I have a tradition of setting a mantra at the beginning of each year. Last year was all about strength - and, boy, did I need that! This year is different. I chose "Lean Into the Light" for this year based on a few things. 1.) People lean into people who provide light to their lives. Whether that be laughter, passion for what they do, positivity or even just a smile. I want to make sure that I spend a little time each day this year providing light to someones day. 2.) I want to surround myself with people (like you) that provide me light each day. That feed my passion and soul and help on the days like today when it's 10:44 pm and I find myself writing a blog after cooking a total of 16 different recipes in one day, dropping off meals to a fabulous client who provide me LOTS of light (thank you, Joy!) and teaching a cooking class. In ONE day...

I point this out because even with quirks and stumbles, each of the people that we came into contact with during our stay provided a light- that drew us in and made up appreciate the experience, imperfections and all. And I hope we responded in kind and gave them some positivity on a holiday that they gave up to work, when people aren't always the nicest.

Our New Year's reservation for next year is already made - hotel, spa AND restaurant. We can only hope that next year can live up to this year and provide the same level of fun, entertainment and great food. We plan on never leaving and eating there for three meals in a row all over again! And I hope we see some of the same great people next year, from the front desk to the restaurant.

Appreciate the little things. Practice patience. Be kind. Move in grace. Lean into the light.

Happy New Year!!

P.S. It was -11 and we still got in the Hot Springs!! It takes more than that to stop us!

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