Forget the sights, show me the foodPublished 6:24am Saturday, July 23, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Sometimes the only way to experience a real moment of clarity is to leave your comfort zone and forge into alien territory, so my husband, Graham, and I drove to central Minnesota.
We stayed at Madden’s on Gull Lake, a classic resort similar to Kellerman’s in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” It was in this peaceful wooded paradise that I had an epiphany. Baby didn’t mind being put in the corner. As long as Baby has a pot roast or a basket of rolls, Baby’s just fine — because when she’s on vacation, all Baby does is eat.
I wish I were talking about Jennifer Gray, but, friends, you know I’m not.
Some people shop on vacation, but the money they spend doesn’t seem real. Other people engage in risky behavior, but the cliffs they’re jumping off don’t seem that dangerous. It’s vacation after all, and everything makes sense because vacations are dreams. Up close nothing seems unusual, but take a step back and the wide view becomes distorted and reality blurred. You’re in the “Twilight Zone” minus all the smoking. You’re in “Inception” minus all the Leonardo DiCaprio.
I’ve been wandering through that other dimension, a dimension not of sight and sound but of food, for 20 years, but I didn’t know it until our last day at Madden’s when Graham and I were recapping the more memorable moments.
While Graham talked moonlit swims and sunsets, I fondly recalled the way our waitress, Alex, set my cheeseburger down right on the edge of the pool where I floated. I praised the charm of our waiter, Emil, and how he balanced the whole dessert tray on one forearm. Graham saw the beauty of Gull Lake, and I wondered how many different ways the walleye it held could be cooked.
An awakening gripped me and the vacation dream began to collapse. Was I really eating my way around the globe caring only for where my next menu would come from? Was the world an endless buffet table with bottomless pans of hash browns?
As soon as we got home I ran to my travel journal, which is really just a box of notes dashed on napkins and old dining receipts. That should have been my first clue. What I read on them almost made me lose my appetite.
Vail, Colo. “Nothing says, ‘I can’t ski’ like three days in a lodge eating calamari.”
Yelapa, Mexico. “Mmmmmm, corn chowder.”
London, England. “Holy awesome gravy Bat Man!”
Port Antonio, Jamaica. “Don’t forget the recipe for the banana drink!”
Maui, Hawaii. “I will never mistake wasabi sauce for guacamole again.”
Seward, Alaska. “There should be a picture of a halibut taco on the state flag.”
Lucerne, Switzerland. “I’m not sure that veal was legal, but it sure was good!”
Rome, Italy. “Do these people know their way around a great sauce or what?”
Moscow, Russia. “Visited Stalin’s not-so-secret bunker today. The Russians think American tourists want to sit in Stalin’s dining room and eat ice cream sundaes while listening to elevator music, and guess what? We do!”
The next entry beats all of the above for the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever written.
“On the way home. Still thinking about Paris and wondering how they made those mashed potatoes taste so good.”
The world was my oyster, but I ordered the mashed potatoes. Had I nothing to show for two decades of gallivanting?
Then I remembered those meals and the people who shared them with me. I can hear Vicky laughing while we ate those golden buttery haystacks in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. The look on Tim’s face as I stuck a spoonful of wasabi in my mouth almost made up for the burning. Jenny and I competing to see who could wring the most puns out of the word “halibut,” and Graham hunting down my special banana drink when I was sunburned, are all memories I treasure
These are the months when we vacation with our friends and families. We’ll rave over the shopping, the food or the adventures. Years later, though, the little moments we don’t even realize we’re having, a smile, a laugh, a good conversation will be the memories left behind. They’ll haunt us pleasantly like a sweet dream, real, unreal and unforgettable.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.