With our Paleo seminar duties out of the way, we drove to the nearest watering hole in Estes Park to guzzle gallons of NorCal Margaritas. Okay – not exactly. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Paleo Police spied a half-dozen of us decompressing over plates of greasy Mexican food and sugary piña coladas. Even after Mel, Holly, and I had talked our heads off all day, we happily babbled away until we shut down the cantina.

After catching some Zs, we were ready to tackle our last full day in Colorado. We had grand plans for Henry’s birthday: Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, blending in with the camera-wielding tourists at Elk Fest, eating our way through Boulder, and exploring the haunted hallways of the Stanley Hotel – the inspiration for the spooky Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

But we lost track of time at breakfast with Mel, Dave, and Holly (it was totally their fault for being so damned funny and interesting), and with only a few hours left to cram everything in, it was up to the birthday boy to pick the day’s activity.

What won out?

Ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel with the gang!

Although Henry’s been a fan of “The Shining” since he read it as a kid, the real reason he wanted to visit the Stanley Hotel is so he could impress our seven-year-old with “real-life” stories of hauntings.

As you may recall, Big-O is obsessed with two things at the moment: Weird Al Yankovic and the macabre. (Remember the ghost tour he took in Seattle?) It’s truly heartwarming that he’s evolving into a weird little pop-culture-spouting nerd, just like his mom and pop.

Henry and I are the two of the biggest skeptics around – we know how Photoshop works – but we made like tape recorders ‘cause we knew our pint-sized ghostbuster would demand a complete debriefing.

Besides, the hotel is genuinely creepy and unsettling, and I didn’t want to spoil the mood with open mockery. See? I’m not even smirking very much in this photo. I kept on my poker face Polka Face.

To make sure that no ghoul floated past our untrained mortal eyes, we took a zillion photos. From multiple angles. With flash. You know – just in case an orb could be captured in a shot. (In case you didn’t know, “orbs” are evidence of ghostly activity. They’re more commonly referred to as “lens flare” or “dust particles on the camera lens.”)

I think I see one, don’t you? I guess we gotta get our camera cleaned…

(By the way, the photo above shows the door to Room 217, where Stephen King stayed when he dreamt up “The Shining” – and the same room where the characters in the book encounter…something.)

After our spooky tour, we fiercely bear-hugged Holly goodbye as she dashed off to the airport. Ghost stories make me hungry, so Mel, Dave, and Henry, and I hoofed it over to the nearby Mountain Home Cafe for a hearty brunch. Yes, we had breakfast here just the other morning, but Mel and I intently studied the menu again as we waited to be seated. Food nerd habits are hard to break.

My lunch? A bunless grass fed cheeseburger topped with avocado and crisp bacon, accompanied by a side of crunchy sweet potato fries.

The four of us gabbed until the friendly staff gently nudged us out of their restaurant – which was already closed for the day. I love Mel and Dave. For some reason, I just can’t shut up when I’m with them.

So it was with great sadness that we parted ways after brunch. Henry and I had early dinner reservations at The Kitchen in Boulder – an hour’s drive away! – but we wanted to explore the Pearl Street Mall beforehand.

One of the coolest shops we wandered into was Peppercorn. How do I describe this place? It’s kind of like a Bed Bath and Beyond curated by your tasteful-but-crazy foodie hoarder aunt. As we browsed through the immense cookbook section (crammed with tons of Paleo books!), we unexpectedly bumped into Holly, who had taken an impromptu pitstop on the way to the airport. It was like finding another piece of chocolate at the bottom of your purse after thinking you’d eaten ’em all – the best kind of kismet.

Of course, this meant we had to part ways again – more hugging ensued – before Henry and I headed to his birthday dinner at The Kitchen.

When I’d put out an APB on this blog for a great dining establishment in Boulder, the overwhelming vote was for The Kitchen. It’s a casual farm-to-table neighborhood restaurant with a world-class pedigree.

We were the first ones seated for dinner service, but as the sun sank in the sky, the place quickly filled up.

Look at my handsome birthday buddy!

The Kitchen’s all about feeding the community with fresh ingredients from local farms.

For our meal, we decided to split a bunch of nibbles and starters and one entrée. We started with Devils on Horseback (balsamic-drizzled seared dates stuffed with cheese and wrapped in crispy speck)…

..prosciutto with cornichons and a tangy mustard…

…duck rillettes topped with a plum and cognac gelée…

…melon salad with lime, Fresno chili, basil, olive oil & black sea salt…

…grilled shrimp with tomatillo sauce and corn relish…

…roasted vegetables with spicy greens and harissa…

…and a grilled pork chop with wood-roasted plums and sprouts.

Throughout dinner, we did our best to hew close to the Paleo straight-and-narrow – until dessert.

We capped off Henry’s birthday dinner with a celebratory affogato and a flourless chocolate cake …

…that we filled with heavy whipping cream.

As we drove the winding mountain road back to Estes Park, a full moon peeked through the clouds, signaling an end to a fun and memorable weekend.

No lie: I’m already planning a return trip to Colorado next year.

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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