This happens almost every time I travel. The tightening of my chest as I soak in vistas splashed with golden fields and rows of trees with bright green apples hanging low. The softening of my heart, maybe even my soul, when I spot the local animals, grazing or sleeping or just generally doing whatever it is that animals do during the day. The pitter patter of my dreamer heart as I scour real estate listings on my iPhone, pricing out land and farms and even old turn-of-the-century cottages that sit on acres filled with things I’ve only ever seen in my own head in the darkness of night. The small, some might even say meaningless, conversations with strangers. Where they’ll say, “My family’s been on this ranch for more than a century and I wouldn’t change a damn thing about it.” They’re not meaningless, those conversations. They’re imbued with meaning and history and personhood.
And this, friends, this was Idaho.
If you were following along on Instagram or Twitter, you could probably hear it in my voice and see it in my photos. From Boise to Sun Valley, southern Idaho and the smile-from-ear-to-ear people there captured my heart. So much so that I returned home and said to my husband, “You know what, babe? I think we could be genuinely happy on a farm in Idaho.” Of course this wasn’t the first time those words had come out of my mouth post-trip, so he responded with his standard okay-babe-whatever-you-say smile and maybe even a little oh-geez-she’s-crazy eye roll. For the record, I really meant it this time, mister.
I really only scratched the surface of Idaho while I was there and I hope some day I’ll have the opportunity to go back to see, explore, and taste more. But for now, I want to share a few highlights from my trip. To inspire you to head west and visit this gorgeous and often-overlooked state. Eat some bacon and hug a few cows for me when you go.
I knew there would be potatoes. Loads of them. But what I did not know is that the bacon (everywhere) would be salty and meaty and crunchy to perfection, the beef would be some of the finest beef I’ve ever tasted, and the desserts would be over the top imaginative.
At Ketchum Grill in Sun Valley, we had a Snake River Farms Wagyu filet that cut like butter and melted in my mouth. It was the kind of steak you’d actually write home about. And then you’d go back again and again any time you found yourself with a craving for filet because there’s no longer any point in ordering it from anywhere else. At The Dish in Boise, we had spiced ice cream with shaved foie gras and cookie crumbles. Any chef who successfully incorporates foie into an autumnal dessert is a winner in my book and, believe me, after trying three of Chef Jered’s desserts, I can assure you I will be back to taste the whole menu, including the savory side.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was the wine. It might not have been the earthiest or the most tannic or the most complex batch, per se, but here’s what so many of the wines there offered that is genuinely special: balance. I could sip Cinder’s crisp viognier for days, preferably with buttery pan-seared scallops or freshly shucked oysters and, if I’m being really picky, with their winemaker Melanie by my side. She’s about as down-to-earth as winemakers get. And I’m confident that Sawtooth Winery’s tempranillo would be well-loved by pretty much anyone at a dinner party, paired with pretty much anything. Though I have to say, when it was paired with the aforementioned filet at Ketchum Grill it was pure perfection.
The Street Art
I’m going to be totally honest here. I never imagined the Boise art scene would capture my heart. I’m not sure the words “Boise art scene” even existed side-by-side in my vocabulary until a few days ago. But the street art there is playful and fun and it matches the western hipster vibe that buzzes throughout downtown Boise.
In addition to the local artists’ work that’s showcased on painted traffic light control boxes, there was Freak Alley—several blocks that run off the hip-and-happening eighth street where tattoo-inspired graffiti art is smeared across brick wall canvases. Where a mirrored mosaic of Jimi Hendrix lights up at dusk when it’s caught in just the right light next to the quote:
I used to live in a room full of mirrors. All I could see was me. Well I take my spirit and I smash my mirrors. Now the whole world is here for me to see.
If that isn’t just plain gorgeous, I don’t know what is.
Maybe when I said Idaho, you thought about potatoes. Maybe you said to yourself: this girl has lost her damn mind, going on a culinary tour of Idaho. I don’t blame you. But Idaho farmers and ranchers are also major producers of beef, lamb, wool, apples, and dairy. And let’s be honest, there’s pretty much nothing greater than a state full of low-hanging autumnal fruit and furry animals, am I right?
Let’s just say if any of my new cow-owning friends ever need a ranch-sitter, I know of a blonde blogger in Portland who would do it for free. Though you may need to offer me a teensy tutorial on, well, everything.
I tend to use AirBnB most of the time when I travel, but for this tour, we stayed at two fantastic hotels that I’d happily recommend. In Boise, we settled in at Hotel 43, located just a stone’s throw from the best restaurants and bars in town and just across the street from the Saturday Boise City Farmer’s Market.
In Sun Valley, we were spoiled at the luxurious and recently-renovated Sun Valley Lodge, which boasted bathtubs that could hold a cow (note: this is generally frowned upon), a year-round ice skating rink that makes me want to lace up (okay, not really because ice skating is fun to watch but terrifying to do), and vistas that make your heart melt. It doesn’t hurt that many a celeb – including, you know, Marilyn and Clint—have called it their home away from home in the past. Who knows who you’ll rub elbows with at après ski.
The Trailing of the Sheep
There is so much to say about this amazing festival that happens every October. Too much to say here in this quick little recap. So instead, check back soon for more words and photos from the parade. And in the meantime, I’m leaving you with a few images of some very rambunctious parade sheep who made the event the highlight of my entire trip and a memory I’ll never forget.
Bonus: Kale and Caramel
This particular one isn’t necessarily housed in Idaho, but lucky for me Lily was also on this spectacular tour from Boise to Sun Valley. Lily and I have known each other via the interwebs for quite some time, but we finally got to meet in real life on this tour and I’m not sure I’ve ever giggled so much in my entire life. Yes, I giggled. Lily has that kind of effect on people.
It’s normal for me to feel inspired by my fellow food creatives and with her holistic, vegetarian-centric recipes, Lily’s no exception to that. But what’s rarer, beyond all the giggling, is for someone to inspire me to consider the intuitiveness of my body, to write with and for my whole heart, and to live a fuller life. I can honestly say I miss her (and our Maudes) already.
Many thanks to the United Dairymen of Idaho for sponsoring this trip (all thoughts and opinions are my own), to all of the people who had a hand in making it so darn memorable, and especially to Tony Harrison, who very kindly overnighted my camera to Portland when it decided it wanted to stay in Idaho without me. Damn camera has a mind of it’s own.