I am staying at the Volcano Union Inn while on my book arts work-holiday. It is a peach of a place: four upstairs guest rooms (one of these days I will stay in a large front-of-the- house room, but the back rooms are cozy—I know, because I've stayed in both of them now, the Daffodil last year, and this year, the Mocha) plus a bustling bar and restaurant, open to the public for dinner and the odd special-occasion brunch (Mother's Day, coming right up!).
The fact that it's so bustling is a bit surprising, given that this town of 110 (give or take) is a detour from literally anywhere.
But the food and ambiance explain why.
Yesterday for dinner I had a wonderful dish of white polenta, peas, and prawns in a "chili jus"; tonight, seared salmon with pea-speckled risotto, slivered onion crisps, and tiny braised parsnips and purples carrots (I'm guessing). I would kill for both the recipes. I may ask our breakfast server—knowing that I'll be met with disappointment, but still: just maybe I'll get lucky?
This evening I sat at my high table under the single, silent TV in the room (playing sports, of course) and scanned the menu, an unpretentious xeroxed affair, thinking I'd get something new after last night's prawn dish. But . . . the prawn dish was gone! The salmon was in its place! Otherwise, the menu looked the same. That is classy: I suspect they revise the menu each day according to the chef's offerings. No "specials" here.
And then I read (I've just started a history of Israel), sipped my wine, enjoyed looking up every so often and observing the other diners, animated in their conversations (the room, all dark wood, is loud); when the food came, I savored every bite. It's a very comfortable place to have a meal, even if you're on your own—one thing I really like about America as opposed to Europe: the nonshamefulness of solo dining.
And now it's 9:30, I'm back in my room above the kitchen, and the restaurant has closed; I'm hearing the clank of dishes being washed, the voices of the work and wait staff as they wrap up their busy evening. Banter, laughter. It's a very friendly, upbeat place.
Tomorrow morning at 6:30, I'll get up and switch on the coffee pot on the landing outside our doors. At 8, I'll hear the scrape of chairs on the plank floor downstairs as my fellow workshop participants sit down for breakfast (coffee cake, a hot egg dish, and a yogurt-fruit-granola cup is the pattern, but always with shifting ingredients and styles), and I will scurry to join them.
And so another day will start. Tomorrow for me it's cutting and folding paper, sewing signatures, and slicing leather, plus a few last little metal details to figure out. I doubt I'll finish my book tomorrow, but . . . who knows? Anything's possible.