I accidently stumbled into a Hallmark movie. You know, one of those sappy Christmas romances that takes place on a ranch in the snowy mountains of Colorado. Except this was a real working ranch, not a movie set.
My husband and one of his clients was invited to go on a private elk hunting trip on this 40,000 acre ranch. I invited myself along, because I figured I could hang out at the lodge and have my own private writing retreat. And I did write a little, but…
…we pulled up to this idyllic landscape of log cabins surrounded by mountains. From the lodge (parts of which date back to the 1860s), we could see horses racing in the meadow and mule deer wandering freely about. It was a little distracting!
Then, since I was the only female guest and the only one not off hunting during the day—the staff kindly invited me to join them for breakfast: one of those Pioneer Woman kind of breakfasts, with fresh cow milk and about ten home-cooked choices of food.
I easily convinced myself that absorbing different lifestyles enriches my writing, so with the staff’s blessing, I wandered around to see how a real ranch operates. What I learned is that they really work hard, they operate like a big family, and the cooking staff are very serious about serving three homestyle meals a day.
Four hours before dinner, the chef and a prep cook were already buzzing around the industrial kitchen at top speed. Not the “thawed prepared meals” kind of cooking, but the “making everything from scratch” kind of cooking. Not “bottled” salad dressing or barbeque sauce, but “homemade condiments” kind of cooking. I know, because I kept peeking into the kitchen.
Although the ranch employed several shifts of wonderful cooks, I’m particularly grateful to Chef Jennifer Sunde, who noticed my interest and invited me to join her in making a meal. I was already in awe of her food. So were the 14 men I was sitting around the large dinner table with each night.
It turns out, Chef Jennifer came from culinary school and has taught many cooking classes. Her family is also featured in various books and articles because of their “farm to table” lifestyle.
In cheerful fashion, she walked me through the steps of baking yeast rolls and a coconut pie—enough to feed 10 staff and 15 guests. I then helped her and the prep cook, Isaac, finish up the other five dishes and set the table. It was a four-hour race against the clock.
Following ranch custom, Chef Jennifer waited for the guests to gather at mealtime to announce the food menu. She shared with the men which foods I had prepared. Silly as it sounds, I felt inordinate pride watching them enjoy the food I had cooked.
As an average cook at home, with a less than enthusiastic audience, I now understand why Chef Jennifer feels such joy cooking for large admiring crowds. Although I’ll never have her natural talent in the kitchen, I’m pretty sure my family will happily accept yeast rolls and coconut pie as part of my cooking repertoire.
I’ll deeply regret leaving this beautiful ranch; the walks in the snow and three home-cooked meals a day. The only thing missing from this Hallmark movie experience is the movie crew and a marriage proposal (already did that, dear husband). But I’ll always have a few photographs and these two cherished recipes to remember my experience by. And I suspect that one of my future books will someday be set on a ranch.
Chef Jennifer kindly said that I could share her recipes:
Jennifer’s Macaroon Pie
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup coconut (plus 1/4 to sprinkle on top)
2 eggs beaten
3 Tbs all purpose flour
1 Tbs melted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
Stir together all ingredients. Pour into prepared pie crust
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 min.
Sunde’s Farm Bread
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 Tbs yeast
4 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs oil
6 cups bread flour
Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water (hint: sprinkle in to prevent lumps). Stir with wooden spoon and sit until puffy. Stir in salt and oil. Gradually add flour. Knead until smooth. Place in greased bowl. Let rise 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min.