You don’t know you have a fear of heights until you do.
I almost didn’t make it to the top that day; almost threw in the proverbial towel right before the peak. Mentally and emotionally hovering somewhere in the gray matter between giving up and tasting sweet success, there I stood. Struggled is more like it, actually. There I struggled. I watched as people flew right by me on the way up: men, women, children, people carrying children, puppies even. It seemed as if I was the only living being there that day who was having any trouble whatsoever with the climb. I could just tell people that I made it to the top, I thought to myself. No one would need to know that I’d chickened out.
I was working my way up to Dragon’s Tooth, a rock monolith that sits between the Roanoke and Craig County lines in Southwestern Virginia, not far from my hometown. With a group of friends, I’d walked for an hour up the side of the mountain and had, until that moment, remained blissfully unaware of just how high we’d gotten. You don’t know you have a fear of heights until you do, and I guess you don’t fully realize how high you’ve climbed until you look down, and that’s when I fell. It was when I looked down.
“Lauren! Are you okay?!” My concerned and caring friends rushed to my side, helped me up and gave me the sweetly obligatory pep-talk that you give to people when they’ve literally and figuratively lost their footing … when they need a swift kick in the pants. I had psyched myself out almost completely by that point. I’d looked down, gotten scared, and convinced myself that I couldn’t do it, that I was going to fall. And then I did.
A self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.
“I’m okay. I’m okay.” I’d muttered, mostly just suffering from a bad case of embarrassment. I wiped off my dusty, slightly bloody self and stared blankly up the side of the ridge. Alright then; I can do this.
Talk to anyone who lives west of the Rockies, and they’ll tell you the mountains in Virginia aren’t real mountains. “Oh, those are just big hills!” they’ll say. “Nothing like what we’ve got out west.” I’ve heard it my whole life. But to me, the small strand of mountains in which I grew up, the Blue Ridge to be exact, are some of the most beautiful mountains you’ll find anywhere, and perhaps part of that comes from their subtlety. They’re approachable, our mountains are, never too showy or intimidating. I remember feeling such a sense of pride over the way they just seemed to flow over the landscape surrounding my small hometown, like the blue-green waves on an ocean … as far as the eye could see. When we go back to Virginia now, my family and I, the mountains set the scene for us every time and usher in the feeling of home. When we see them off in the distance, no matter what direction we’re approaching from, they always manage to kick-start the happy anticipation of being back with family, friends and the familiar places we’ve known and loved for so long.
Actually, on second thought, the mountains do show off from time to time. In the Fall, the trees explode to life, putting on a prismatic show for their audience every year. The ironic juxtaposition of autumn’s creeping death and decay against the utterly stunning vibrance of its beauty is, to me, one of the coolest things about the season. The Fall months are when I tend to feel the strongest pull to go back home to Virginia; to soak up all of those mountain colors before the cold of Winter darkens the landscape for months on end. Blushing red. Golden yellow. Blazing orange. My favorite time of year.
The Blue Ridge Mountains literally framed my adolescence and play host to countless memories and experiences, many of which I’ve written about here. The sunny Fall afternoon I spent when I was in college, hiking to the top of Dragon’s Tooth is one memory that puts the mountains themselves front and center, and there has not been a Fall since that I haven’t thought about that day. That particular hike – and there are several in the area – is a little more challenging than others, but we’re not exactly talking expert level trekking here. But I fell when I was nearing the top and doing so completely threw off my confidence and sense of calm on what had otherwise been a very peaceful and fun experience. Stumbling on an uneven ledge as I tried to work my way up, I ungracefully tumbled down the rocky mountainside for what seemed like an eternity but was really probably no more than a couple of seconds. My friends came to my aid and successfully managed to get me to finish my climb to the top, and once I was there – once I was standing at the highest point on that mountain – my embarrassment and fears just seemed to fade away. It was morning still, and the sky was blanketed in a thick cloud cover. The sun was trying its best to break free though, and its rays were shining down through a few cracks in the sky, making for a spectacular scene. For miles on end, you could see the forest-covered mountains with their blanket of fiery trees and, thanks to the fact that the sun hadn’t yet burned through it all, there was a misty fog sitting in all of the nooks and crannies of the mountain valleys, and it gave the whole scene a completely surreal and heavenly quality. I’ll never forget it. People always give me a funny look when I tell them that gray is my favorite color, but my affection for the hue stems – I’d like to think – from one of my favorite parts of home. Mixing with campfires and home fires alike, the fog creates a dreamy, smoky landscape that rivals any other in my book. Yes, that misty autumn Appalachian fog is unique to the little corner of the world I call home, and it’s something I still miss every year.
One of my friends had packed a picnic for us to enjoy at the top of the mountain that day, and the lot of us wolfed down the contents of his backpack like we hadn’t eaten in a week.
“All this fresh mountain air will really make you hungry!” Kyle said, as he handed me a tortilla. We filled our puffy, soft flour tortillas with veggies and some sort of highly seasoned vegan meat substitute that I remember being very good. We worked our way through the faux-meat and veggies and just ended up eating tortillas – plain, un-warmed tortillas, and it was so great. I’m pretty sure we polished off the entire bag between the three of us, which is either a testament to our extreme hunger or some exceptionally good tortillas. I can’t really say for sure.
Homemade Flour Tortillas & Dragonfruit Salsa RECIPES
I think this is the most simple recipe I’ve ever posted on my blog, but wow is it a good one. Being able to make fresh, hot, homemade tortillas at home is such a cool thing and you might not want to go back to store-bought after you give these a go. You DO NOT need a tortillas press to make them, however if you do choose to use one, I can happily recommend the Victoria Cookware version that I’m using in the photos here. I’ve been using it for a while now and it’s foolproof. But a rolling pin or even a long drinking glass will also work really well.
Secondly, I’m including a recipe for a fresh dragonfruit and pineapple salsa here as well. Tropical fruits, unlike domestic and/or local varieties, tend to not rely on seasonal appropriateness in quite the same way. Dragonfruit are technically winding down their prime season right now but depending on where you shop, you can find them all year long. But really the idea here is to have a great tropical fruit salsa recipe in your back pocket for those heavy, cold-weather meals that can stand for a little brightness here and there. I love to make salsas, compotes, and/or chutneys like this for that very reason. A heavy, meaty dish almost always benefits from a burst of fruity sweetness or acidity and you can accomplish that with whatever fruit combos you happen to enjoy. This time of year, tropical fruits tend to make sense – their seasonality is more forgiving. Sometimes during the colder months I like to do a citrus salsa with orange and grapefruit or a stone fruit salsa.
Homemade Flour Tortillas (adapted from cooks.com)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water
Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, mix the dry ingredients until well blended. Add the oil and water with the mixer on medium speed. Mix for about a minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. After a minute when the mixture comes together in a ball, reduce the speed to low. Continue to mix for one more minute or until the dough is smooth.
Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Divide in half, and then in half again. Continue dividing the pieces in half until you have 16 equal portions. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten them with your palm as much as possible. If sticky, use a bit of flour. Cover the flattened dough balls with a clean kitchen towel and allow them to rise for 15 minutes.
When 15 minutes have elapsed, heat a large pan over medium-high eat. Roll or press each dough piece into a rough circle, about 6 – 7 inches in diameter, keeping the surfaces you’re working with lightly floured. Just don’t stack the uncooked tortillas on top of one another, as they will stick and get soggy.
Place one dough circle into the hot pan and cook for 1 minute, or until the bottom has a few brown spots. If you think the tortilla is browning too fast, just reduce the heat a bit. Flip the tortilla and cook for about 30 more seconds. Remove from pan; keep in a covered container or zip-top plastic bag until they’ve all cooked. This will keep them soft and pliable. Repeat this with the remaining tortillas. (Note: you might want to wipe out the pan in between tortillas if too much flour is accumulating).
Enjoy right away, store in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or store them in the freezer indefinitely.
Fresh Dragonfruit and Pineapple Salsa
1 cup fresh pineapple flesh, chopped into small bite-sized cubes
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1 medium dragonfruit, halved lengthwise, peeled, and then chopped into small cubes
1 shallot, minced (you don’t have to use all of it, can be to taste)
The juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper
Salt and pepper
Place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until use.