“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
— john muir, naturalist
While the nature of our more recent adventures has been decidedly more culinary-centric, the first years of our courtship were spent flirting in the wilderness. As fate would have it, both worlds will collide this summer.
In 130 days we head to California to embark upon a two and a half week thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. And while our trip may not be as important for society as this one, it’s still a pretty big deal for us.
Along the way, we’ll travel through more than 200 stunning, self-supported miles of the Sierra Nevada mountain range including Yosemite National Park, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. At the end of our journey, we’ll be greeted by Mount Whitney which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest summit in the contiguous U.S.
Beyond communing with nature, the trip is significant to us for countless other reasons. First, it’s a celebration of a milestone birthday for me (stop trying to do the math!) Next, it is a nod to our dream (deferred) of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s also a perfectly timed challenge for our fascination with making things.
Challenge #1: Fuel
Not that we need any coaxing, but it doesn’t hurt that dark chocolate is a favorite food staple of superstar hiker Andrew Skurka. Burning an average of 5,000 calories per day, this will be the first time we can cram chocolate into our pie holes guilt-free. (I hope it’s not the last.)
Calories aside, the challenge lies in figuring out how to stuff as much of our Batch chocolate as possible into our shared, 3 lb bear canister. Not only will we have limited space, but we’ll have to defy hot, humid hiking conditions to keep the chocolate palatable.
Challenge #2: Protection
I’ve always been a favorite of mosquitoes and blisters so transforming our cacao-inspired body blocks into a natural weapon is at the top of our to-dos. Combined with the exposure we’ll get cresting several 13,000-14,000-foot peaks, we’ve added natural sunscreen to prevent Zan from baking like a Thanksgiving ham.
So no, we won’t be carrying a rifle for bear protection, but we will be armed with natural products concocted in our very own test kitchen. Is it weird that I keep dreaming about a gorgeously designed periodic table poster? (Don’t answer that.)
With an ever overflowing plate of things to do, we readily admit that none of these things are necessary to complete a successful hike of the JMT. They are, nonetheless, the kinds of projects that enthrall us — it seems that when Zan and I got hitched, our ties to everything else in the Universe became ever more apparent.
And, on that note, we’ve got testing to do...
Unless you count the time Zan tried to master hand-pulled asian noodles while I was away on business (gotta love his the lack of hubris), it’s taken years to work up the courage to try making pasta from scratch.
Ironically, after all the overthinking, we were totally unprepared for our inaugural attempt...
We were just days into our stay in another country, in a stranger’s apartment with access to only basic utensils. Hubris in check, we kept our first shape simple. We chose orecchiette (translation, ‘small ear’), a pasta from the heel-shaped region that completes Italy’s boot.
We made it a few times then invited our hostess to dinner. It was thrilling! Not only because it was not disgusting, but because it tasted like only made-fresh-with-our-loving-hands-then-delivered-straight-to-your-heart could taste.
It was also a poignant reminder that great meals have less to do with experience or equipment than they do with intention.
In our kitchen, the most prized ingredient is not saffron or truffle — it’s time.
Time to cross reference dozens of drool-inducing recipes, gather fresh ingredients and slow dance between mixing and rolling. And, of course, time to truly savor the meal, meditating on all the lovely things that make it worth the extra effort.
Connected to time, sharing is the other essential. We learned this one years ago when we started Social lunch —a weekly meal where work comes to a halt so we can gather as a team and break bread. It’s still one of my favorite things about Social and, no surprise, our longest running office tradition.
We hosted this past Social lunch at our home and everyone took part in the pasta making. And while we shared the tips and techniques surrounding the making (not to mention calories), we also shared the intangibles that make a meal truly memorable — good company, lively conversation and positive energy.
Time may be limited, but sharing knows no bounds.
My nonny (my mom’s mom) is the oldest of 14.
A first generation Italian-American, she was born into a lively immigrant family with little money but plenty of mouths to feed.
I grew up next door to my grandparents and, though I loved them both dearly, I could never identify with their traditional lifestyle. I robotically helped shell beans and fetched canned vegetables from the cellar. I barely noticed her fresh baked Easter breads, shaped like small dolls with a hard boiled egg for a face, or how she effortlessly minced garlic — between her thumb and a blunt steak knife.
As a young girl, I dispassionately told my grandmother that I didn’t need to learn “woman’s work” because someday I’d have an important job and the business of making a home was, quite frankly, irrelevant and boring.
I was convinced that a world lacking proper feminists or modern gadgets could never be interesting or important.
(You see where this is going, don’t you?)
Today I live hundreds of miles away as nonny approaches her mid-90s. A glimmer of her former self, she’s no longer lucid enough to remember the names of her own siblings or recall which are still living.
Yet, as the years pull me away from my time with her, my respect for all things made simple, fresh and by loving hands only grows stronger.
In keeping with our journey of making small batch chocolate and such from scratch — and enchanted by stories of nonny’s handmade dough lining crisp white bed sheets — making fresh pasta has become my attempt to reconnect with her.
This year, Zan and I have decided to learn a new pasta each month. Pictured is our attempt at Ricotta Caramelle Elle Erbe Emilia-Romagna.
Without any equipment, we mixed, formed and rolled the dough into transluscent sheets by hand. We then cut the paper thin sheets into strips, dolloped a cheesy herb mixture and proceeded to wet, fold, press, score and twist.
Who said this was boring?
As I spent the morning rolling and folding mounds of gorgeous dough, warm memories of watching nonny at work flooded back.
If she was here to see me, I know that she would barely understand the making of our fancy, modern lifestyle. But, as we gently tossed our rustic creation into a fragrant herb-butter sauce, I just knew that she’d be proud.
We are total suckers for quality handcrafted, artisanal goods.
But, while we can sometimes be entranced by provenance, it’s as honest a fascination as it is practical. Should Zan have his way and we live forever, I figure it’s only smart to know not only what goes into our bodies but on them as well. (You know, to remain well preserved until we upgrade to our bionic parts.)
Whether it’s with a camera, a canvas or chocolate, we’re most engaged when we’re cracking cacao beans or melting wax. Maybe making things as healthy as possible can help us eek the most out of our time together?
Without further adieu, we’re excited to introduce you to our latest adventure — our personal sweet spot where craft chocolate meets limited batches of healthy, delicious body lotions and potions. Stay tuned for all things small batch and craft and, of course, chocolate.
(And who knows, maybe one day, some bionic parts too?)