No cookbook had ever made me cry before.
I don’t mean chopped onion tears, or even collapsed soufflé tears. I mean, honest-to-God, I’m-verklempt-and-need-a-moment tears.
Then one recent Sunday morning, I opened This Immeasurable Place, a new collection of recipes, essays and musings from Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah, whose chef-owners—O.G. farm-to-table stars Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle—created the long-anticipated volume with Rachael Ray Every Day contributor Lavinia Spalding.
Before I could even get to the foreword, I landed on a poem by Mary Oliver, who had me not so much at "hello" as "goodbye." Here's the poem’s final stanza:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
What indeed? Unprepared for an existential crisis so early in the day (or book), I was a total goner. And absent any better answer, I resolved to use this cookbook to whip up the most soul-stirring, everloving feast my little kitchen had ever seen.
Not that there’s much precedent in that department, as my boyfriend would note if you asked, but still. I was determined.
Aaaaaand I was immediately waylaid. There was so much to dig into—profiles of all the characters who work in and around the stunningly remote Utah farm-restaurant, plus “Blake’s Fun Facts from the Henhouse,” Jen’s family food memories, and good lord, Ace Kvale’s photos—that I was more inclined to curl up with the book than to spring into action.
Seven hours later, I’d decided on my big lineup: Shirred Eggs, Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Sizzled Sage, Sage Farmer Hot Toddy, and Mema’s Oatmeal Cake.
“This dish is so simple, yet utterly divine,” say the authors. “Eggs baked in cream with herbs and cheese—seriously? Yum!”
And the result may well be the tastiest example of truth in advertising I’ve ever encountered: heaven in a little cast iron skillet.
Related Recipe: Eggs en Cocotte (Baked Eggs)
Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Sizzled Sage
This dish earned its inventors the “Most Hardcore Locavore” award. “The concept was simple,” they explain in the book: “What shall we do with all these pumpkins and apples?”
The answer: create the most insanely flavorful soup ever, apparently. The bouquet garni alone packs clove, cinnamon, star anise, juniper, black peppercorns and red chili flakes. Then there’s the sizzled sage. And the butter from the sizzled sage. And the other butter. Okay, I’ll stop.
Related Recipe: Rachael Ray's Pappardelle with Brown Butter Meat Sauce & Crispy Sage
Sage Farmer Hot Toddy
“This trusty and timeless elixir will cure whatever ails you, especially if what ails you is winter,” say the Hell’s Backbone ladies. “Our iteration, with a healthy infusion of sage, tastes like a warm cup of sunny, summertime Utah desert.” Sold!
And the result tasted (and soothed) exactly as promised. So please don’t hold my version above—which one Rachael Ray food editor has deemed the "Loch Ness Toddy"—against the recipe. I assure you I won’t be leaving my day job anytime soon to pursue a career as a drink stylist.
Related Recipe: Mint Julep Hot Toddy
Mema’s Oatmeal Cake
Related Recipe: PB&C Oatmeal Skillet Cookie
From the book: “This old-fashioned recipe, handed down from Jen’s grandma, is always a welcome addition to our farmer lunches. In fact, the kids on staff have coined it ‘crack cake.’”
And those kids weren’t kidding. The buttery-brown-sugary-nutmeggy nirvana kicks in with the first bit of batter you lick of the spatula, intensifies mid-bake by way of some powerful olfactory voodoo, then crescendos once you’ve already had a few servings, and you find yourself unbuttoning your pants—not even surreptitiously—in a desperate attempt to make room for more.
But the mad frenzy of consumption isn’t the only reason I can’t post a photo of the finished product here. Seems I have no idea how to remove a slightly fragile cake from a 9- x 13-inch pan without maiming my masterpiece. Perhaps Ms. Loch Ness Toddy will teach me some day. Til then, you’ll just have to trust me: The taste is so good, it will—yes—make a grown woman cry.