DENVER — On the evening of the Fourth of July, while (I presumed) my friends and husband in San Antonio were sweltering at their cookouts, I was wrapped in a blanket, sitting on my sister’s front porch tending to a grill.
A rainstorm had blown through earlier in the evening, dropping temperatures to what felt like the mid-50s.
As cool we were on Sunday, we’d baked in the sun on Saturday at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, and sweltered the night before, maneuvering our way along crowded sidewalks, into and out of art galleries, at Denver’s First Friday event. Still, you know, it was a dry heat.
The mild weather, art shows, antiquing and seeing my sister were the highlights of the weekend visit. These, plus a drive up into the mountains a ways outside of Boulder to stop and cool our feet in an icy, rushing creek and breathe in the pine-scented air.
A weekend trip to Colorado always includes a few culinary excursions as well.
We never fail to visit The Ethiopian Restaurant on Colfax Avenue. What the restaurant’s name lacks in catchiness, the food more than makes up for with wonderful flavors. These range from the spongy injera, sheets of soft, slightly sour-tasting flatbread served with the largely vegetarian meal and used to scoop up the food, to a new item on the menu, a wot, or meat stew, of cubed lamb cooked in butter.
If we go to only one restaurant in Denver during my visits, this is the one. And, as always, upon leaving I mention to the proprietor and his wife, the chef, that San Antonio really needs a good Ethiopian restaurant. I’d even help them scout out a place. And, as always, they smile at me graciously and thank me for the compliment — but I’m not sure they realize how serious I am.
Truthfully, a visit to the restaurant just once or twice a year makes it that much more of a treat. We usually go with friends and order the vegetarian plate, served in a common dish. Except for the chile-spiked red lentils, the flavors are mild and buttery, but cooked with plenty of garlic to utter tenderness.
The huge, rimmed platter, set in the middle of the table, is covered with a layer of freshly made injera. Then, the proprietor brings bowls full of lentils (three different preparations), tender potatoes and carrots, cabbage and freshly made chopped greens. From the bowls he spoons the food out onto the platter. The juices soak into the injera beneath. While we have fresh flatbread for picking up the food (no utensils are used) bites of that flavor-soaked injera under the stews are the best part of the meal for me.
(I’d really like to have a photo to share, but I accidentally left the camera at home. )
Our other culinary excursion is shopping in the packed, two-story Peppercorn store at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. This mountain college city is not a long drive up from Denver and the mall is always a blast from the past. Buskers ranged from a not-bad 1930s-style jazz singer to a young woman would have better spent her time at home practicing her saxophone. An enthusiastic, acoustic trio was the best act going.
College-aged kids sprawled out on the lawns while little kids played in a section of concrete that sent erratic squirts of water shooting up out of spigots set in a grid in the ground. We thought they should have had one for adults, too.
The two-story Peppercorn, founded more than 30 years ago, holds hours of entertainment for foodies who want to shop for everything from dishes and linens to gourmet condiments, copper cookware and the latest releases in cookbooks. I picked up a couple of Murano glass tumblers and a small cobalt blue pitcher, a green corkscrew and a package of chocolate-covered espresso beans. (Shop at Peppercorn online.)
On that cold and rainy Fourth of July evening, we’d decided late in the afternoon to get my sister a new grill, so off we went to Target where we didn’t find exactly what we wanted (a Weber grill). But we picked up what was offered and went home to sit on the kitchen floor for more than an hour reading instructions and managing to get the thing together. This is an activity we did not enjoy and more than a little shameful language accompanied the project.
We did have help in the form of a drink that I’ll share the recipe for here. It’s called La Vie en Rosé and takes only a little advance preparation. Make a pink grapefruit granita by mixing together 3 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part vodka. Put it in the freezer in a shallow dish and stir it around once in awhile as it freezes.
Meanwhile, chill a bottle of pink Champagne or other sparkling rosé. When the granita is ready, put a big scoop in the bottom of a wine or martini glass and pour Champagne over it.
It may not have been the ideal drink to pair with steaks, but as fireworks thundered off in the distance and rain dripped off the eves, it was just right for celebrating a blessedly cool, holiday weekend.