My friend Chelsea has a quiet magic in the kitchen. While everyone else is babbling, or performing (among our friends, there is a lot of performing), or just cracking up, you'll often find her standing at the counter, stirring a bowl with great concentration. She'll stop, think to herself for a second, scurry to the pantry and grab some jar, confidently sprinkle a little into her bowl, then it's back to stirring. No recipe, and no artifice. At the end of it, she'll calmly walk out with a grin and a big plate of something delicious, making the rest of us shut up just long enough to applaud, stuff it in our mouths, then applaud some more.
Somehow she can intuit exactly what satisfies, and it seems like she throws it together just as intuitively. (This culinary sixth sense may be related whatever it is that allows her to give the kind of tarot card readings whose eerie accuracy may actually make you cry.) Last weekend, Chelsea, myself, and seven other friends, new and old, drove up to Mammoth for a few days of cozy, wintry goodness. I'm not much of a cold-weather girl -- I'll opt for 100-plus temperatures over snow any day -- but, I can certainly get behind cozy. As Kit, one of the nine on the trip put it, what I wanted was "aprés ski without the ski". And I got it.
Home base was a condo made up of three tiny stories stacked on top of each other, with a little fireplace in the living room. Out the balcony window, we could see snow falling on evergreens and wood cabins. We played Pictionary at the kitchen table, we read magazines as Geordie strummed his guitar -- with Kit all snug in her Snuggie all the while, we played Taboo and Celebrity by the fireplace, and in general just enjoyed each other's company. Of course, we didn't stay in the house the whole time: Kit and I got there a day later than everyone else, so we missed the ski day (darn), but we did weather a hail storm in our snow shoes, took a gondola to the lodge for spiked coffee drinks, had the surreal experience of throwing snow balls while in the hot tub (really, you should try it sometime), then managed to squeeze the whole party into the sauna, where we belted out Nelson, Extreme, and Mr. Big as we warmed up to the bone.
And throughout the weekend, we cooked, we ate, we drank. There were a few times on this trip where I thought to myself gratefully, this is why these people are my friends (the hair band sauna sing-along for one). It's a really good feeling to know you've found your people. I missed the feast of tacos and nachos with homemade salsa and guacamole the first night, but was the official egg-cracker for French toast Saturday morning: constant pot of coffee brewing, real maple syrup, big bowl of tangerines that Jeni brought from her tree at home (how we managed to leave the condo without stealing that awesome bowl remains a mystery), and strawberry butter that Chelsea threw together. The next morning we'd go large on breakfast again: homemade biscuits, a giant veggie scramble compliments of Rachel, and slapdash cinnamon rolls -- Bisquick dough, honey, cinnamon sugar we found in the pantry, lots of butter, homemade glaze, and some other magic I can't even begin to fathom -- thrown together, unhesitatingly, by Chelsea.
Saturday night, as we played games and drank toddy, Chelsea and Ashley stepped out of the kitchen with their hands full once again. This time, they'd improvised a sweet snack. They'd slathered leftover flour tortillas with strawberry butter from the fridge and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar, slapped them together and browned them in a pan. It turns out that ad lib strawberry quesedillas are the perfect fireside treat. But Chelsea already knew that.