The Montana dispatch

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 13:56 18/02/2014

This morning three of us girls laced up our snow boots, wrapped scarves around our necks, pulled our hats down to our nearly instantly frozen eyelashes, and set out into the morning with beef stroganoff, sautéed green beans, and a bottle of $5.99 sparkling wine.

This is our official brunch morning. Which means we all collect at different spots around the ranch and then make our way to the coveted three-story cabin on the ridge above the main lodge, where the other, luckier, more senior management ranch staff are housed.

We are like the three Magi walking with our gifts, shrouded mysteriously in tea towels, which will get us a free pass into the ridge cabin.

But it is worth the hike in below freezing temperatures. Unlike our sunless hovel that has no potbelly stove, the ridge cabin gets the full winter sun.

It has a porch with a swing, a woodburner with stacks of firewood ready to go, deep chairs to sit in, and a couch that looks out to the Big Sky ski runs.

It is a Life and Leisure magazine view. One that we can pretend is ours for a few hours, as we take off our jackets and hats stiff with icicles, drink mimosas out of Bud Light beer mugs and slap big portions of mid-western dishes I have only read about in 1950s Betty Crocker recipe books onto cracked plates with beige floral designs.

This morning the stroganoff and green beans and cheap OJ mixed with even cheaper champers (my contribution) is set down next to sticky buns cooked in a cast iron pan.

The interior of the house smells incredible. It feels like photo shoot for a Rocky Mountain Christmas morning in 1976.

We talk about work, but the unofficial rule is that we aren’t supposed to. No shop talk. No gossip.

Most of us here are wait staff; some of us are fishing guides, wranglers or chefs.

Every week we have done this brunch I have found out something new about the people I work with. I have found out, for instance, that Rob, one of the waitstaff – who I have just assumed was born and bred in Montana and had led a relatively quiet life – used to work for the US Coast Guard and was stationed in Italy, tracing the drugs coming in and out of Europe.

We learned that Rob was something of a Jason Bourne in the 80s, posing as a drug dealer, and living in a beachside villa with an awesome stereo system (one perk of posing as a drug dealer) and was regularly beaten by police and knows that if you screw up wine service by pouring palm up, you are basically telling whoever is waiting for their Merlot that they have about 24 hours to live.

I’m a little rusty on mafia codes so this is helpful info to have in a fine dining restaurant.

Initially we had a plan each week to bring foods that complement each other. If one person brings eggs, another will bring bread. If we have a sweet dish, another person will cook bacon.

But I think it works better when there is no plan. When we can bring what we like to the table. Dishes we are missing. Dishes we are craving. Dishes that are old family recipes and dishes that are just new experiments we want to try out, without the risk of it being sent back to the kitchen. Dishes that make no sense on one table.

I like the haphazardness of unveiling, altogether, a blackberry crisp, mandarins, pigs in a blanket, breakfast burritos, glazed carrots and a bottle of vodka with a flask of cranberry juice (again, my contribution). Brunch, above the woods, looking out to Lone Mountain on one of the coldest mornings of the winter so far, is kind of heavenly this way. Restful, cozy, winterish.

It is something of a Christmas morning every Tuesday at 10 a.m. And it is like a holiday morning, once a week, with an extended family you are still getting to know. And believe me, in the heart of a out-West winter, you need a lot of mimosas and screwdrivers in Bud Light pint glasses and glory day stories of Sicilian throw downs to get you through to the ice crack of Spring.

So Bud Light pint glasses raised up. And ching ching to winter, kids. Here’s to passing the half-way mark.

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