FIELD NOTES: Was it all a dream?

Dec 01, 2022

Was it all a dream?

I have a confession to make: I haven’t spoken to anyone in three days. 

Ok, that’s maybe not entirely true – I ordered coffee the last two mornings and I snuck to the fancy wine bar downtown for a glass and a snack last night. But generally, I’ve been sitting in a friend’s borrowed apartment watching Netflix and doing laundry. In checking in with my teammates (those five people I saw every day for the last six months who are now scattered across the country in various states of settling in post-tour) it seems like the general trend is one of hunkering down. Whether back home where they started or in a brand new city starting over, everyone is in deep recovery mode after six months on the road. 

Tour crew has been chasing the summer around to produce farm dinners. We’ve been living in eternal sunshine (with some pretty interesting tan lines to prove it) and operating completely in the moment. Whether we were following crowds during farm tour, evaluating dinner timing and plating, or mapping out the next drive, it was impossible to think much farther ahead than the next course, the next dinner, the next sunset over that distant horizon. Then, suddenly, we packed our bags and boarded planes that took us to different cities where we found ourselves on our own once again, no longer entangled with the schedules or needs of others, suddenly responsible for only ourselves. 

Meanwhile, across most of the country, it got cold! It’s decidedly fall – more dramatically so than expected, even after our last few dinners where we were sure to break out the fire pits and pass around blankets. Coastal California is strange that way; its weather only whispers of the season to come through the relative thickness of the morning fog that forces you into several layers, the slight weakening of the strength of the midday sunshine that causes you to strip down to shirtsleeves. It both shelters from the changing seasons and offers a little bit of each one throughout the day. I, however, came back to New England post-tour, which does not whisper but declares – sometimes quite loudly – that summer has come to an end. Where the trees were just dusting themselves in gold as we left our last East Coast dinners they are now standing naked in the wind, which seems to promise snow as it blows in after dark. The light during the day is decidedly blue, carrying none of California’s thick golden glow. It was (dare I say) shockingly dreary to come back to.

It’s a strange feeling to be winding down as everyone around you is gearing up for holiday festivities. I was still unpacking my bags as Thanksgiving approached, trying to remember standard meal times and recalibrate my sleep schedule. Everyone was asking about my plans and planning dinner parties, but I couldn’t help but think about how the last thing on my mind –  for the first time in many months – was a dinner party. I am writing this two weeks to the day after my last event, but the whole experience has already taken on the fuzzy glow of a distant dream, gilded in the thick golden light of a California sunset. It is not lost on me that I’ve spent the last season of my life helping to put together some of the most memorable moments of countless others’, to the point where it all kind of blends together. For each of us on tour crew, there are countless moments that stick out – Chef Trevor grilling watermelon in calf deep Atlantic tidewaters, crossing I-80 on foot to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats, the dinner our satellites cooked us at the Petaluma KOA, skunks eating our gummi bears at the campsite in Martha’s Vineyard, the Texas shaped waffles at that hotel in Austin, that sunset, that sunset, that sunset….somehow, even the remarkable moments start to become difficult to disentangle from each other. In working to create a dream for others a few times a week, it seems we built a bit of a dream world for ourselves – a collection of surreal moments shaped by six strangers brought together by their passion for food and farms, and their (mostly) unwavering commitment to making the most of the experience. 

For me, right now, making the most of the experience is drinking an espresso martini and eating takeout tiramisu in the hotel room I am sleeping in blissfully alone before moving into my new apartment tomorrow. As we move into the holiday season – a time full of unforgettable moments, and the pressure to make them so, may I share with you a little bit of perspective from the other side of it all. While the grand dinners are wonderful, and those major celebrations certainly matter, some of the sweetest moments are those in between. So, if you find yourself on  a coffee run for those up early cooking the holiday meal, or zoned out on the couch with an anonymous sports game chattering in the background, or spending the day alone by choice or by circumstance, I encourage you to look up and enjoy it. If you’re at a gathering, take in everyone around you. Catch a candid smile as they are deep in conversation, or a wistful gaze across the room as they try to catch a loved one’s eye. If you’re alone, breathe in the invitation of this season: to turn in, to slow your pace, to hunker down. Knowing that, you are far from alone. There are at least six other people out there, scattered around the country, sleeping in and savoring the quiet of an empty room. 

While our dinners are on break for now, I invite you to host your own gatherings – whether they be for many or for just one or two – to celebrate the beauty of this particular season, its hearty bounty, and those gathered with you to take it in, together. We’ll be back in the New Year with opportunities to escape the cold (have you seen the winter tour schedule?), but for now, embrace it. Don’t let those memorable moments pass you by, they’re easy to miss in the thick of it all. 

— Ariel

Recipe from the field: Tres Leches Cake

Recipe by Brian Redzikowski of Kettner Exchange served at Temecula Olive Oil Co. on October 29th, 2022