Swan Lake, MT – The heavy rains in early summer may have alleviated the risk of a hard forest fire season, but for families that lose their homes to fire there is no season, for domestic fire can hit at any time and place.
Spurred on by the disastrous Bitteroot fires of 2000, Laughing Horse Lodge joined forces with the American Red Cross to raise monies to assist families who had lost their homes to that devasting blaze. Donating the kitchen and dining room to volunteers and neighbors, owners Kathleen and Richard allowed their home and business to become a catalyst for aid.
Eleven years later, the Horse is going strong, and the sense of community responsibility still stronger, as volunteers descend on Swan Lake to assist in the annual Labor Day Huckleberry Pancake Breakfast.“We’ve been told that this is the longest running ‘fund raiser’ of its kind in the valley,” says Kathleen, “but it’s not about the length of time, its about the people who come out to eat pancakes and drop a check in the jar to help someone they will never meet.”
Over $50,000 has been raised over the years, all the funds staying in the NW Montana area to aid families. “The magic number is $6000,” states Kathleen, “that’s what we aim for each year during the three day event.” Representatives from the local ARC explain that it takes about $3000 to help a family get relocated and purchase needed clothing and items to set up a temporary home. Overall, eleven families have received necessary assistance from the kindness of strangers enjoying breakfast with friends at the Horse.
The 12th Huckleberry Pancake Breakfast for Montana Fire Victims will take place at Laughing Horse Lodge, Milemarker 71.5, Hwy 83, Swan Lake on September 3,4 and 5, 8am to 12 noon. A minimum donation of $6 will receive delicious fresh huckleberry pancakes, sausage, juice and coffee served by your neighbors and friends. Experienced pancake grillers are welcome in the kitchen for two hour shifts!
Can’t make it? Send your check made out to American Red Cross – Montana to Laughing Horse Lodge Pancake Breakfast, PO Box 5082, Swan Lake, MT 59911. For more information, call 406-886-2080 or visit www.laughinghorselodge.com
Although summer is not quite over, we’re looking forward to a marvelous and very colorful fall here in the Swan Valley. With cool nights already occuring, the autumn foilage should be brilliant…and what better way to enjoy the crisp days of fall than with a roaring fire and a delicious glass of merlot in hand?
So if you haven’t had the chance to leave the office or the ranch this summer, now is the time to make your plans to let Kathleen and her staff spoil you rotten with good food, good wine and a comfortable bed.
Our fall package includes:
♦Two nights of lodging for two
♦Gourmet dinner for two each evening with a bottle of wine personally selected by Chef Kate to compliment your meal. (Dinner includes one appetizer, two organic lodge salads, two entrees and one dessert.)
♦Gourmet breakfast for two each morning including French Roast Coffee and freshly baked scones.
Package Price $289 (gratuity not included)
Our autumn package is available September 7 – October 30, Wednesday to Sunday only.
Enjoy a two hour trail ride up the Swan Front to view the magnificent autumn colors. Two hour ride for two – $140
Experience the beauty of Swan River in all of its glorious fall foliage with a Guided River Float for two. Three hour float with brown bag lunch for two – $150
Bliss out with your own private in-room (or weather-permitting, lake-side) massage. One hour massage $75, two consecutive massages $140.
When Booking Your Autumn Escape: When making your secure on-line reservations, select your two nights and in the note field write: Autumn Special. Include in the notes any add-ons. Upon finishing your reservation, you will receive an automatic confirmation for rooms only…Kathleen will adjust your reservation with package details and pricing and resend a new confirmation.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Horse.
Our annual World Tour of Beer at the Horse is just around the corner, and like last year, the Horse will be the perfect place to cozy up with your friends as the rain continues to pour.
The pros from Rocky Mountain Wine Distributors will be on hand with some exquisite and unique beer finds from Europe, the US, and South America – 12 new beers and a table laden with the efforts of ‘yours truly’ and my new staff.
We’ll be serving up Baked Figs wrapped in Bacon, fresh Ahi sashimi with wasabi sauce, smoked salmon sushi, over-the-top buffalo wings, and, my favorite, pork carnitas mini tacos with Gloria’s fresh salsa. And of course, we’ll be pulling out the stops on dessert…nothing like a fresh rhubarb and strawberry tart with a Belgian berry beer!
The Horse will add a few of your favorites to our Beer Menu for the summer along with our draft offering for the season are three local beers – Great Northern Brewery’s Wheatfish and Kettlehouse’s Cold Smoke and Double Haul IPA.
The Tour begins at 6pm on Tuesday, June 21, at the Horse located at Milepost 71.5 on Hwy 83. $25 per person (beer tasters and eaters) and only $10 for designated drivers (non-drinkers). Reservations required. 406-886-2080.
Join us for our first ‘Free Fall’ Tuesday on June 14th as we explore the culinary offerings of the Pacific Rim.
Put your taste for epicurean adventure (say that fast three times!) into our hands for an evening of beautiful food inspired by the great chefs of Singapore, Maui and Kauai, Hong Kong and even San Francisco. We’ll be featuring all natural meats, wild fish, organic cheeses, and, for the first time, organic greens and vegetables from the Horse’s garden! Each course will be matched with a wine selected by Rocky Mountain Wine Distributors.
Our Pacific Rim Menu
Ceviche of Prawns, Scallops and Lobster -in passion fruit citrus over organic spicy micro greens and slivered green papaya
Brie and Mango Quesadilla in Roasted Tomato Tortilla -with cilantro macadamia nut pesto
Roasted Maui Onion and Goat Cheese Salad -organic Tyee spinach and fresh mandarin orange with Haixin basil vinaigrette
Grilled Natural Pork Tenderloin Medallion and Wild Mushroom Polenta -marinade of Makers Mark and fresh pineapple juice with warm pineapple chutney
Chilled Sticky Black Rice Ball Infused with Ginger and Maui Honey -with young coconut ice cream
Secured reservations are limited to 24 people. Dining room opens at 6:30pm, dinner begins at 7:00pm. $65 per person with wine, $39 without wine.
Winter is quickly loosening its grasp on Swan Lake, although the shadowed snow drifts will probably remain until well into May. But with the temperatures nearing 50, thoughts turn to spring and the inevitable crush of a fun-filled, visitor-packed summer.
While the Horse still slumbers under several feet of snow, and Chef Kate still lingers somewhere near the equator, plans are underway for an exceptional year of good food, music and even better Montana hospitality at Laughing Horse Lodge.
So where exactly is our intrepid hostess? We caught up with Kathleen at a remote 5 star eco-resort on the west coast of Panama where for the past few months she has been guest chef, teacher, student and explorer…a typical winter for this 12 year Montana resident.“I originally came to Panama to build up my Spanish so that I could bring in a South American guest chef for the summer and have a way of communicating in the kitchen,” says Kathleen. But not satisfied to have just one ball in the air, the study trip turned into a temporary gig at one of Panama’s newest luxury resorts, Boutique Hotel Cala Mia located on an isolated Pacific island in the Archipelago Chiriqui.
“This has been an experience in self-sufficiency and creativity,” laughs Moon as she recounts the first trip to Isla Boca Brava…a two hour journey by bus, cab and boat from the nearest town. “ I arrived all jazzed only to discover that there wasn’t a single piece of chocolate on the island and it would be two more weeks before anyone was going shopping back on the mainland.”
Surrounded by troops of howler monkeys, noisy parrots, and a 3’ iguana living in the thatched ceiling of her bungalow, Kathleen went to work (without chocolate) with the property’s Italian owner Vittoria Ghini, establishing a Spanish-language SafeServe-style training program for the kitchen, setting up an on-line reservation system, and giving the island chef a break each week. “It’s been a real struggle in the kitchen being ‘forced’ to work with fresh fish and lobster brought to the dock each afternoon,” Moon quips, a smile in her voice. “I’ve also learned a bit about making artisan cheese…and in Panama of all places.”
Ghini, and her Dutch husband Max, opened the resort 4 years ago and support the dining room at Cala Mia with an extensive organic farm and dairy operation located a few kilometers east on the island. Fresh arugula, herbs, aubergine, peppers, tomatoes and a dry-land rice are produced, as well as organic butter, cream and an outstanding Gouda.
Building and maintaining a luxury eco-resort and an accompanying organic farm with a small but state of the art dairy processing facility would be a challenge even in the US or Europe, but to do so on a remote second-world island with a single car ferry (built by Max) and the feat becomes extraordinary.
“These people are impressive,” states our traveler, “my highest complement to Vittoria and Max would be that with their independence and entrepreneurial abilities remind me of many of the Montanans I’ve befriended over the years.”
Kathleen returns home just in time to participate in the annual Taste of Bigfork on May 1st. She’ll be bringing with her new ideas and a renewed dedication to providing even more organic offerings on her already outstanding menu.
The dining room at Laughing Horse Lodge reopens May 20th with dinner served Wednesday – Sunday, from 5pm. Reservations are highly suggested.
Freefall Tuesday’s at the Horse
This summer our popular Chef’s Tasting and Wine Dinners become Freefall Tuesdays, where you put your taste for adventure into the capable hands of Chef Kate and her creative kitchen staff. Freefall is a five course tasting experience loosely inspired by a specific region of the world, with each course paired with wine selected by the chef and a local wine expert. Using only the freshest ingredients available from local farm-to-market growers, organic meats and wild fish, each menu is sure to stimulate and please the most discerning of foodies.
Freefall is limited to 24 guests with secured reservations required. Freefall is $129 per couple with wine, ($34 per person without wine).
Last summer’s series was a sell-out, so reserve early!
Our epicurean explorations:
June 14 – Polynesia
June 28 – Portugal
July 12 – Tasmania
July 26 – Afghanistan
August 9 – Sri Lanka
August 23 – Guadalajara
September 13 Freefall End of the Season Missoula Farmer’s Market Menu with Guest Chef
For reservations: email Kate at email@example.com
“Cuando los ingredientes son óptimas, la cocina puede ser simple.”
“When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple”.
No truer words have been written, especially when it comes to fresh -beautifully fresh - fish still redolent of brine, eyes bright, firm fleshed and loaded with culinary possibilities. Last evening four Americans showed up at the dock, a stringer of corvina (sea bass) in hand, and a request for dinner. The menu was already set for the Cala Mia dining room, and with only 30 minutes before the hotel’s guests would be arriving, an uncomplicated dish was required.
I remembered reading David Shalleck’s Mediterranean Summer, a biographical journal of his first year’s as Chef on a luxury sailing yacht in the Med, and how he was challenged to create new dishes every day using only the freshest of ingredients for his discerning and demanding owners. Cheffing at an isolated island resort is similar to cooking on a yacht…you just can’t make a quick run to the market when the whim hits you. So you get creative and simplify, simplify, simplify…and use what your location offers up…in this case fresh fish.
One of Shalleck’s ‘go to’ recipes was Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water), a traditional Neapolitan dish that exemplifies simplicity. With Cala Mia’s ‘go to’ guy, Beto, cleaning the sea bass, I began to assemble the dish. Thirty minutes later, as our four fishermen finished their first course of organic gazpacho with Feta and virgin olive oil, their pesce was served. After the ‘oohs and aahhs’, silence reigned as they quite obviously enjoyed their dish. (Although I would like to take full credit for its success, the kudos go to the Neapolitans who for centuries have mastered the art of simple, yet elegant dishes; and of course, the tasty corvina.)
Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Cala Mia Style)
Fresh fish…the best is flaky fish like halibut, snapper, bass or grouper.
Firm, ripe tomatoes
Kalamata Olives (optional)
Virgin Olive Oil
Sea salt and white pepper
[Although this recipe is designed for cooking whole fish, I have adjusted it to individual-serving stoneware oven-to-table dishes.]
Brush the ramekins with olive oil.
Cut fish into 1″ chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Layer the ramekins with thinly sliced leeks, zucchini and a touch of minced garlic.
Place the fish chunks on top of the vegetables.
Place thinly sliced tomatoes over the fish.
Sprinkle with minced parsley, a bit of diced kalamata olives and capers (rinse both well to remove excess brine).
Drizzle with olive oil and cover for the oven.
Note: The dish will appear somewhat dry, however, after 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the fish will be simmering in a lovely bath of ‘crazy water’. Do not overcook!
Ahh…the smell of spring is in the air! Well, not quite yet, but it isn’t too early to dust off your fishing rod and make your “Winter Is Over!” plans for visiting Swan Lake and the Horse. Our popular Spring Fisherman’s Getaway is back! Join us between May 20th and June 29th for our all-inclusive package for two: 2 night’s lodging with dinner and breakfast, and complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival…for only $259! And don’t forget to bring the pup – non-smoking dogs welcome!
[When making your secure on-line reservations, please write 'Spring Specia'l in the Notes. You will receive a price-adjusted confirmation by email within 48 hours.]
A Pacific storm has circled Cala Mia and Isla Boca Brava, the freshening breeze dropping the temperature to near tropical perfection. It is the first day in a month without sun, and I am happy for the change.
The morning begins well before sunrise with a boat ride to Boca Chica to meet up with Chef Ricardo who is taking me on my first shopping expedition in the provincial town of David. There are no large grocery stores in David thus our first stop of the morning is a triple wide garage off a residential side street filled with the morning’s fresh produce…melons, peppers, yucca, papaya, guava, pineapple and a variety of lettuces and cabbages overflow boxes and bins. There is a riot of color and chaos reigning in the aisles as farmers bring in their offerings, trading or selling fresh carrots and broccoli, bartering still warm jugs of milk and cream for a bag of butter beans or squash. As I walk around and select what I want to use in the restaurant for the next week, I am amused by the dichotomy of this market experience and those experienced last fall during my trip to Languedoc. Like produce, familiar Latinate faces, but there the similarities end.
The European markets are masterpieces of visual splendor…it is not enough to have a stack of carrots for sale at the Menton halle, no, the carrots have to be laid out in an intricate design, framed by vivid aubergines and the delicategreen gold of artichokes – each farmer’s display trying to out do that of his neighbors’. In the David market, no such attempt is made. This is a working man’s tiende, the only real display being one of beautiful bags of garlic – grown in China.
But at the end of the day, a carrot is a carrot and a pomelo (grapefruit) will taste the same whether it was crowded in a burlap bag in Panama, or in a geometrically perfect pyramid interspersed with vibrant purple plums in France. So the carrots and the pomelos and a dozen or more relatives are bagged up and loaded into the back of a rented white Kia work truck and off we go to the Super Baru – a combination general store offering hardware, groceries, clothing and butchery…a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything (except Olive Oil of which there are 27 varieties!).
It takes two hours going up and down and back up the aisles translating labels and doing menu exchanges in my head to get close to what I want and am envisioning for the dining room in the coming week when it is my turn to head up the kitchen.
Another hour to check out and then back to Boca Chica to meet up with Chombo and the Cala Mia boat.
When I consider the physical difficulty of getting raw ingredients to this isolated island, the dedication of Cala Mia’s owners and staff to presenting exceptional food is singularly inspiring.
Well, the sky is darkening and a few stars are peaking through the remaining clouds…it is time to head to the kitchen and begin assembling tonight’s offering. Chef has asked me to create a first course using locally harvested lobsters and I am happy to oblige, especially since I have those beautiful pomelos…
Ceviche de Angosta con Pomelo
Freshly poached lobster tail, chilled and loosely diced in large chunks
Grapefruit segments, skins and seeds removed
Red and Yellow Peppers (demeated), minced
Red Onion, minced
Passion Fruit juice
Salt and White Pepper
Hot Pepper Flakes
Arugula and Mustard Greens
Toss cilantro, peppers, garlic and onion with the lime and passion fruit juices, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and pepper flakes. Chill for an hour to let the flavors meld. Toss in lobster and grapefruit segments and refrigerate for another hour, stirring occasionally.
Place fresh greens in the bottom of large martini glasses, leaving a few sprigs sticking out as garnish. Place ceviche into the glasses, distributing the remaining liquid as a dressing for the greens. Serve immediately
When it comes to exotic travel, the words ‘luxury’, ‘5 star’ and ‘deluxe’ take on different shades of meaning. Everything is ‘relative’ after all and no more so when exploring the fringes of civilization (and that includes the Swan Valley of NW Montana!)
During one of my winter explorations a few years back, I took on the responsibility of managing a self-proclaimed 5 star resort on a tiny, basically unknown island in the Dutch West Indies. The website was alluring with beautifully staged photos of beautiful people looking at beautiful scenery, drinking beautiful drinks and eating beautiful food…all in all, pretty darn beautiful…and with a rate sheet to match.
The sad reality however, was simply that, sad. The owners couldn’t or wouldn’t see that their 5 star resort was barely clinging to 2 stars. Yes, the position of the hotel 2000’ up on the cliffs over a wild, wind-whipped beach offered a 280 degree of the Caribbean – spectacular. Yes, it was the only property on island that boasted both a tennis court and a fresh water pool, both now in less than pristine condition. And yes, the rooms were spacious and cool with breath-taking views from every angle. But. And it was a very big but…the paint was peeling, the curtains and linens frayed and bleached by too much sun, mildew creeping into every corner, the dining room looking like a nursing home cafeteria…you get the picture…and I was the extent of the staff. But the owners didn’t, and were still trying to charge upwards of $500 a night…a rate that on any of the sister islands within a short boat ride would have truly gotten you 5 star luxury in the form of 600 count Egyptian cotton linens, room service, elegant dining and a professional and discreet staff.
Once the owners handed over the property and left for their vacation, I dug in with some really deep cleaning, painting and scavenging the best furniture, art and linens to make at least three of the rooms, the lobby and the dining room somewhat approach luxury…my goal was simple…try to meet the expectations of those few people who had made reservations during my tenure. I also implemented a procedure whereby the guests, upon lighting from their taxi, were given a ‘beautiful’ tropical cocktail and walked out to the pool deck with that stunningly ‘beautiful’ view. My hope (and it worked pretty well) was that the ‘Wow!’ factor would blind them to the reality of the rest of the property.
But that was then and this is now…and ‘now’ finds the Horse tucked away safely under the winter snow and me on an isolated Pacific island off the coast of Panama – Isla Boca Brava in the Archipelago Chiriqui – working at Boutique Hotel Cala Mia (which means My Coast in Castellan). Before arriving at the hotel, I wondered if their ‘beautiful’ website would stand up to reality…and I have not been disappointed.
Perched on a peninsula with both sunrise and sunset, between the waves of the Pacific and a lovely bay, the hotel would be considered luxurious by any standards. The luxury of Cala Mia is not however in 600 count sheets or over-the-top room amenities… the sense of luxury comes from the care that the owners Max and Vittoria have lavished on their little corner of paradise. From the individually designed bungalows redolent of Tuscany in their warm colors and soft contours (each with unlimited hot water on demand), to the personal responsibility they have taken in making this tropical escape as environmentally friendly as possible with complete solar power, recycling and an organic farm producing probably the only truly traditional Dutch Gouda in all of central and south America. The couple, full-time residents of Panama for 16 years, have also committed themselves and the resources of both the hotel and the farm to supporting several indigenous families of Ngobe by donating a percentage of sales to the groups and providing jobs (a rarity on the island).
Guests stepping from the water taxi (the only way to arrive at Cala Mia) are greeted by another form of luxury…a well-trained, attentive, yet discrete staff* that seems to know what you want before you do. Upon delivering your bags to your ocean or bay view bungalow (no check in required), the staff quietly disappears leaving you to discover what true luxury is…quiet…no cell phones, no TVs, no clocks, and nothing more pressing than making sure you remember that dinner is served at 7:30.
[*A caution for celebrities considering a vacation to the island…Cala Mia will be good for your soul but not for your ego – most likely you won’t be recognized – no less bothered for an autograph!]
If you can tear yourself away from the simple pleasure of sitting on your private patio looking out onto a blue-green horizon shadowed with more islands and towering cumulous clouds scudding by like sailing galleons, you’ll discover a jungle echoing with the eerie chatter of howler monkeys and rare birds calling to each other in the tree tops. Jeweled butterflies flit through the undergrowth, as colorful as the traditional Ngobe dresses worn by the smiling women who care for your room each day. And if the pure sybaritic pleasure of doing nothing tires, open air activities abound – horseback riding, hiking, fishing, diving, and kayaking.
I’ll be on island at Cala Mia for the next six weeks, welcoming a unique group of travelers who have made their way here for something that has become a rarity in our fast-paced lives…the simple pleasure of simply being.