After taking my wife and 18-month-old baby for a long month to sweltering France last summer, I resolved to do better by them this year. And so, before the first snow had fallen, we drove out to the posh resort town of Southampton, New York, to rent a modest cottage with the promise of an ocean breeze. Right off, we found a simple little house with a bonus: a rear deck designed by an extremely tasteful architect named Kevin Bone.
It turns out that, several decades ago, I had met --- and not repulsed --- the architect's wife. After we struck a real estate deal, we struck up an e-mail friendship. Only then did I learn that she would be publishing her first book. So I had the odd experience of reading Eugenia Bone's AT MESA'S EDGE: Cooking and Ranching in Colorado's North Fork Valley, in the house that she and her family abandons each summer. Confession: The Bone ranch sounds so beautiful and Eugenia's recipes are so enticing that, Hamptons be damned, I'd rather be on her porch in Colorado.
Eugenia Bone may be the Peter Mayle of the American West, but she sure didn't start out with much enthusiasm for Colorado. Her husband came home from a fishing trip and said he'd found a 45-acre ranch. She understood why: "There was an empty place in him that was not being filled." And so she signed the mortgage papers "the same way I would sign a release for Kevin to have necessary surgery; it had to be done."
Of course the place was a wreck. And Eugenia, a New York City-based food writer, was not a great candidate for assimilation. But as she comes to learn, the hard work of restoring the ranch is balanced by simple pleasures not available in Manhattan. The postmaster divides her mail into two piles: "important" and "not." The sign in front of a church reads: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A SIGN FROM GOD, THIS IS IT. The woman at the gas station gives her credit: "I trust you." She cooks fish caught earlier that day. She discovers that no meat is more tender than elk.
And, slowly, she learns, mostly about the relationship of water and land. She loves to cook; she comes to realize that the land too needs to be fed. That moment of revelation seals her love of this place. And she comes to see that living in the moment --- really, the only way to live in a place so dominated by Nature --- is magical. "Time passes slower; life seems to last longer, and death, because it is daily observable in nature, is not quite as frightening."
It's a delicious life, and she shares it not only in her quiet, concise prose, but in the generous chunk of the book where she serves up recipes. Some of the dishes require ingredients not available in city markets, but anyone can master her Cold Zucchini Soup enlivened with chile powder and tortilla strips and an intensely flavored (thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon zest) Lamb Stew.
Armchair travelers, dreamers and weekend cooks should find AT MESA'S EDGE as refreshing and soul-stirring as a Rocky Mountain breeze.
Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth on December 22, 2010