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Tumbleweeds and Gourmet Cheese: Thanksgiving Comes Early to Aspen, Colorado

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

I just poured a raw egg on my head. The Russian hairdresser who cut my bangs told me that every conditioner, gel, hydrating treatment I’d ever tried on my curly, arid hair is the same as every other: all filled with chemicals. Not exactly a news flash, but pretty honest for a hairdresser with products to sell. I myself am Russian, way back when, so I think I reminded her of her family tree. She loved my hair – just like my granddaughter! - and told me to try mayonnaise, or eggs instead of fancy moisturizing treatments; anything organic, nice and greasy and full of cholesterol. Like ignoring a terrorist nation, I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of mayonnaise. So I opted for a 6-pack of $.99 eggs instead.

Aspen, Colorado is the driest place I can imagine living for 13 years. Afternoon showers evaporate before they’re noticed and the fluffy champagne powder contains not one ounce of alcohol. So every now and then, I need some humidity in my life.

I discovered the lactose-tolerant hairdresser in Denver, around the corner from a friend’s house in a funky Colfax neighborhood. I was in the home stretch of a five-week cross-country road trip, to spots hand-picked for the weather, the presence of rocks and, above all, the moisture content in the air.

My hair felt luxurious on the easternmost point of the continent, in Charleston, South Carolina, while my skin absorbed all the Gulf Coast of Florida had to offer. I was psyched to discover a pimple in Louisiana.
Suburban Ohio was an aberration, chosen because of a friend and a place to stay after days in the decidedly un-dry Kentucky rain. As they say, 40 degrees at a jousting match at a Renaissance Fair in South Lebanon, Ohio, chills one to the bone more than 8 degrees hitching a ride at 2:30 a.m. in Aspen, Colorado, could ever do.

I left the hairdresser and made my way down I70. As I rounded the bend into Glenwood Canyon, 18 miles more before hitting the overly familiar ribbon of Highway 82, I could feel the air sucking away the last of that supple feeling. I grabbed the Aveeno from the glove compartment and looked around, marveling at the beauty of the Canyon walls.

Coming back to Colorado felt good and natural and the scenery was starkly majestic, newly inspiring after the monotony of Kansas which started the trip, and the endless run for the border along Highway 287 and Northern Texas, tumbleweeds and oversized loads and the occasional Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center. Louise told Thelma they couldn’t drive across Texas to get to Mexico; my convertible and I couldn’t bear another drive across Kansas to get home. Kansas was my Texas. Turns out, Texas is the new Kansas.

I merged onto 82, less than an hour from sleeping in my own bed and looking forward to the quiet. Aspen in early November is a ghost town, not really the stuff of which the movies are made. Daylight savings only saves the darkness and town is silent, brown and full of plenty of empty parking spaces. One early November, I actually saw a tumbleweed blow across Monarch Street. Maybe from Texas? This year, however, my November 7th timing was impeccable. I was just in time for Early Thanksgiving at Kiley’s new digs in nearby Missouri Heights.

My friend Kiley owns the Cheese Shop, sharing the gourmet space with my friend Marco of Specialty Foods of Aspen. Together, they provide locals and visitors alike with Italian paninis, refined salads, well-priced fine wines, gourmet treats and the finest cheese to ever cross a cutting board. Kiley is the mistress of cheese. She takes the whole matter quite seriously: “Hello, this is Kiley. In the event of a cheese emergency, please leave a message.” She has beautiful blond dreadlocks, looks like Meg Ryan, rides bikes with motors that go around race tracks, loves live music and lives in cool ranch setups around the valley. Her parties are a reason to live here year-round, because you never know when she’ll gather the troops for a full-moon buffet or pate, cheese-filled girl’s night or her latest concoction, Early Thanksgiving before the madness and non-stop winter schedule of life in Aspen sets in motion.

Kiley’s deck looks out on Mount Sopris and the Colorado sun was shining bright on November 8. She’d manifested three long tables, set with lace tablecloths and gourds and real apples with worm holes. She had Riesling and Cuvee and Shiraz and buckets of microbrews and copious amounts of food to feed the 40 off-season friends who trickled down the buffet line. “That’s quite a plate,” remarked my friend Autumn, laughing at my towering display. My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach and I was soon defeated. I took a time out to nibble from a bowl of real cranberries and settled back to listen to the conversations around me.

Friends, Sunshine and Fine WineFriends, Sunshine and Fine Wine

Dawn takes pictures and laughs a lot. She says you need to share your pizzazz in this world. She talks about visiting her husband’s family in Alabama and mothballs and that sometimes it’s all about breathing, when you travel. It’s about the air. I totally agree.

Chris tells of working in Chicago, then moving back to Aspen where he was born and raised. He plays banjo, guitar and drums and moonlights serving paninis at Specialty Foods of Aspen, where he hears all sorts of great things: the other day, someone came in and asked for a Turkey Punani.

There’s Robin from Denver who sings in a Motown group with her law colleagues;“We’re a band of lawyers,” she explains. The public defenders alternate on lead vocals.

Her brother’s in from New York, due to fly out the next day, but he hopes it’ll snow so he can stay a little longer. He produces commercials and tells of a botched Mercedes shoot on an icy road in New Hampshire: “Here’s this procession of 80 thousand dollar vehicles, floating backwards into the ditch. None of them could get any traction.”

Rob grew up in Aspen but he’s been living in Hawaii and traveling to Indonesia, Costa Rica, all places surf. He’s recently moved back to town to revisit life in the mountains. There’s talk of boot-packing Highlands Bowl for a ski pass and Dawn thinks it would be fun check it out for a day, just for the exercise. I suggest yoga instead and she laughs, busting into eagle pose for the remainder of the conversation.

After so many random interactions on the road, in constantly changing surroundings, I had a new appreciation for my chosen habitat and the pizzazz of those in it.

Kiley, the quintessential hostess, toasts the group and thanks them for coming to Thanksgiving early so she can celebrate, “cuz I won’t be leaving the cheese counter till March!”

Back at my place, it’s many hours before I digest. I’m warmed by the evening’s events, but the heat in my apartment makes the Rocky Mountain air even drier. It’s then that I decide to crack the egg. The Russian hairdresser didn’t give specific instructions – do I dab it on my scalp? Run it through my hair? Over easy?! I stir the raw egg in a bowl and take it into the shower, feeling kind of ridiculous (nothing new, really). I wet my hair and actually look around, as though someone is watching - then I pour the egg on my head.

I’m still not sure if it worked; it may take a dozen eggs to make a dent in the moisture content. But I do know this: there’s no place like home. If we ‘on-ly’ had a Waffle House…

Visit Kylie at the Cheese shop at Specialty Foods of Aspen, downstairs at 601 E Hopkins. She’ll be back at the cutting board this winter, should you have a cheese emergency, or gourmet food urgency.