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cooks at home

ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT

Julie Conover lives small to travel and eat big.

WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTO BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN

cooks at home - adventurous

Though her early desire was to grow up as a Lake Tahoe ski bum, Julie Conover, world traveler and former owner of the television series Passport to Adventure, has extended her reach to the far edges of the globe, actively pursuing local food wherever she goes.

Even as an Orange County stockbroker, Conover's personal motto always was "live small and travel big." She openly admits that she and her husband, David, drive older cars and live in a small Tahoe City condo in order to have the flexibility to take six-week vacations.

"We're small-footprint people," Conover says. "We're not big consumers."

The spark to travel

As an only child with two European immigrant parents, Conover grew up with an adventurous spirit while living within the means of her middle-class family. Her father, a merchant marine, would make up bedtime stories, which always were set in other countries.

The hallway outside her childhood bedroom was covered with a large world map that her father had marked with all the places where he had traveled.

With world travel being part of her consciousness, Conover had the mindset that she would follow in his footsteps — and she did.

Conover became hooked after taking her first trip abroad to Europe at 19 years old. Her father had just passed away, which Conover says drastically changed her outlook, making her more of a free spirit.

"I learned at 19 what a lot of people don't learn until they're 40 or 50 — that you have to live for your heart, your self ... You can't live a life of 'should.'"

With this carpe diem mentality, Conover made exploration a priority and continues to seek out faraway places, with food as one of the many perks.

"Food is a huge part of travel for me," she says. "We are always hunting out ethnic restaurants when we're in Reno and when we travel to major cities."

Bringing the exotic home

There is a saying that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. The principle of open-mindedness that often goes along with travel can be incorporated into food as well.

Although Conover has been able to travel to faraway places to taste exotic flavors and authentic cuisines, she looks for inspiration within her own home and neighborhood.

"One of my best cooking nights is when I do clean-out-the-refrigerator night," Conover says.

She recommends looking up on the Internet ingredients that you already have in the kitchen to find recipes that work with them. One tip is to host a clean-out-the-fridge party, where people bring ingredients they already have to combine into an innovative and resourceful dish for the group.

"I have a super dinky kitchen and I cook really good food out of it all the time," she says.

Another suggestion Conover offers home chefs is to try attending a cooking class, such as those offered at Nothing To It Culinary Center and Lanna Thai Café & Culinary School, both in Reno.

For their next big trip, Conover is looking at Southern India and Sri Lanka, both full of inspiration for cooks, she says.

After Conover sold the Passport to Adventure last summer, she has remained an avid traveler and blogger. Her blog is Soul Tripping, which even has its own food section. Check out her foodie adventures at http://www.Soultripping.com

Erin Meyering is a recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno's journalism school. Writing this story and speaking to Conover made her crave travel and new cuisine. She's never been outside of the country, but Italy, Thailand, and Japan are at the top of her list.


Julie's Lyonnaise-inspired Salad with French Mustard Vinaigrette

(courtesy of Julie Conover. Serving size varies depending on your own taste, salad size, and how much dressing you prefer)

This recipe was inspired by Conover's travels in France. She encourages people to make it their own, be brave, and experiment. She also says that her husband was raised on the all-American meat-and-potatoes diet, so salad has never been on his list of dinner favorites — until now.

Dressing

(Conover suggests adding the ingredients to taste)

Whisk together with a fork:

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Dash hot water

Salt and pepper, to taste

Add, substitute, and experiment with:

Oil (bacon grease, instead of or in addition to)

Vinegar (cider or balsamic for sweeter dressing, or strong German "essig" for "biting" acidity; citrus juice such as lemon, lime, or tangerine could also replace vinegar)

Herbs (Conover suggests tarragon, Italian parsley, or dill — especially if you throw some leftover salmon in the salad)

Salad

The traditional French Lyonnaise salad, on which this is loosely based, is made with frisée, but Conover uses kale, spinach, mixed greens, and/or arugula.

Meat

This salad traditionally is topped with bacon, lardons, or ham, but Conover suggests trying chopped peppered turkey lunchmeat, or leftover grilled chicken, sausage, or salmon.

Vegetables (to use in addition to or instead of meat)

Try grilled asparagus, roasted broccoli, or a favorite of Conover's, TruRoots, a "sprouted bean trio."

Conover loves potatoes in this salad. Try reheating some leftover roasted potatoes, or sauté diced potatoes (or even add mushrooms). For a lighter salad, Conover uses boiled potatoes.

Top the salad with a poached egg, or, if poaching is too much trouble, a fried egg is perfectly acceptable. (Traditionally, the yoke should be soft and runny.)

If using kale, chop it and sprinkle with some of the dressing (or vinegar and oil) and let it sit for a while to relax while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add to the greens dressing, chopped meat, warm potatoes, and whatever else sounds good, toss well, divide onto plates, and top each with an egg.

Presentation

Artistically top with avocado slices, asparagus spears, and/or the egg.

For an autumn seasonal version:

Make the above dressing with pomegranate and tangerine juice, toss kale and/or spinach with pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, Fuyu persimmon slices ("do NOT substitute Hachiya persimmons," says Conover) and feta cheese.

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