Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Conference food

Sorry for going AWOL there for a bit with no explanation; I’m just back from spending a week in Keystone, Colorado for my day job—our organization’s annual meeting. (Last year’s was in Singapore: it’s the only time I get to see most of my colleagues—we work together via the internet the rest of the time and gather once a year in some far-flung location to have presentations, posters, workshops, and as much socializing as we can cram in.)

Two friends and I decided to take the option of sharing a condo, rather than staying in hotel rooms. We figured it would be more convivial, plus allow us to supplement conference food (traditionally bland and one-dimensional, if not downright horrendous) with stuff we could prepare ourselves. Before I left home, I put together a cooking kit of some basic utensils that are often lacking in self-catering kitchens (cheese grater, sharp knife, whisk), plus packably-sized portions of some essential ingredients (olive oil, s&p, garlic).

I laid over in Denver for 24 hours as recommended, to begin adjusting to the altitude (Keystone is 9,300 feet/2,800 m above sea level). We were assuming food stores in/near the resort would be scarce and expensive (true and oh so true) so I spent part of my Sunday in Wal-Mart, picking up a diverse array of necessities for the three of us, food and otherwise. (Some of the highlights included black tights, numerous bottles of nasal spray, and a 2-lb/1-kg block of Vermont cheddar.)

I went up to Keystone in mid-afternoon and checked in, and when J. and M. arrived around 8pm, worn out from a full day of meetings plus the 2-hour bus ride up to the mountains, I had a hot dinner nearly ready for them. I had bought ingredients to make a variation of this pasta dish, because it’s a) a complete meal in one dish; b) is vegetarian and cows'-milk free (just in case, since I couldn't remember who didn't or couldn't eat what); and c) uses all of each of the stated ingredients (important when you’ve got to eat everything you buy in the next 5 days).

The food at the conference itself was much better than I had expected—not only was it actually tasty, but there was real food available, not just at meals but at breaks, which in my experience are usually wastelands of dry, overly sweet pastry. Yogurt with fresh fruit in the morning, warm dip with fresh veggies in the afternoon, wedges of blue cheese with crackers at the evening reception—it was by far the biggest and most varied array of fresh food I’d seen at any of our annual meetings since my first one many years ago (in Rome, of course).

So between having our own well-stocked kitchen, 3-4 spreads a day at the conference center, and no possibility of exercising (just walking up a flight of stairs at that altitude left me gasping and lightheaded), I’ve come home replete in more ways than one. To say nothing of the many, many additions to my already overstuffed To Do list.


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