Taste December 16, 2019

Gourmet Off the Grid

Blue Moon Yurt reopens at Jug Mountain Ranch


The evening starts as you strap on your snowshoes or alpine skis, sling your backpack of that special wine over your shoulder and glide down a mile-long trail lit by the soft glow of tiki torches in the winter night. Ahead is the Blue Moon Yurt, an oasis of warmth and candlelight nestled in the trees of McCall’s Jug Mountain Ranch where a five-course gourmet meal awaits you.

Chef and owner Lisa Whisnant creates culinary magic completely off the grid. The yurt is heated by a woodstove and illuminated with candles. How does she manage without the benefit of electricity, an oven or even a snowmobile to transport the ingredients?

Food Prep Off the Grid

Very easily, as it turns out. “I have gas and charcoal grills, and I can bake with a Dutch oven,” she said. “It’s really fun to cook in the yurt!”

In the mornings, Whisnant and her crew begin packing food they’ll need for the evening meal. In the Jug Mountain parking lot, the food and coolers are transferred to sleds, which they’ll pull through the trees to the yurt. She likes to begin food prep in early afternoon, but first they must fire the woodstove to generate some heat.

“The cold is the biggest challenge,” smiled Whisnant. “Sometimes it’s below zero when we come in and the whole yurt is frozen! We’re wearing down jackets and trying to chop vegetables when our fingers are cold because it takes a while for the yurt to warm up. But really, I don’t feel like there’s anything we can’t do. We just have to be creative and adapt.”

After 22 winters at Ponderosa State Park, Blue Moon will re-open in December at a permanent site at Jug Mountain Ranch. In addition to the tiki torches, Whisnant has collected old bird cages filled with solar lights to hang in the pines along the way. The yurt itself now sits on decking and is perched on a slope like a tree house. “It’s not that far from the valley floor, but the quiet is surreal,” Whisnant said. “It’s a very serene feeling.”

Guests bring their own beverages and a non-alcoholic pot of mulled ginger and lemon sits atop the woodstove. There are several appetizers served at the center of the yurt (which encourages guests to mingle), a sit-down appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert.

Dreaming of Food Profiles

Whisnant is a self-taught chef who creates her menus with the help of a little inspired dreaming. “I started seeing colors on a plate in my dreams,” she said, “and I’d wonder what type of food will match that color. That’s when I really start thinking and come up with a menu. I’ve come to rely on this process and find flavors in color.” She once dreamed of pomegranates as polka dots in a white sauce, which then translated into a garlic basil cream sauce with pomegranates, and served over Cornish game hens. The hens had been marinated for 24 hours in olive oil, lemon juice and a pollo asada spice, packed under the skin with a smoky pesto made from pasilla chile peppers and roasted in Dutch ovens.

Her Thai Cornish game hens are a variation on a theme: stuffed with lemon grass, then brined and grilled, while basted with garlic oil and honey. The hens are halved, laid on a bed of smashed fried sweet potatoes with Meyer lemon slaw and served with two curries.

“It’s fun to watch people eat it and hear them moan in pleasure,” Whisnant smiled. “I love making sauces! If you have a dynamite sauce and put tons of love into what you’re doing, how can people resist that? It’s infectious!”

Are you hungry yet?

A Recipe for Friendship

A river guide during the summer season, Whisnant said she originally started Blue Moon Yurt to generate income during the winter. She soon discovered that both activities generate similar experiences for the guests. “What’s fun about guiding is that you get people from all walks of life who are strangers but by the end of the trip are like family,” she said. “The yurt is like that because it encourages people to open up. Food is the catalyst for people to connect. People exchange emails over dinner, and through the years, we’ve seen those connections blossom into friendships.”

McCall resident Gary Thompson met his wife at a yurt dinner. “We were actually set up on a blind date, and I remember sitting next to each other on the bench, feeling nervous like it was a high school prom. But the food was the best you’ll find in McCall, and it was another great yurt night!” he recalled. “We came back for our rehearsal dinner!”

Boise realtor Heidi Creighton said going to the yurt the day after Christmas has become a tradition for her family. “I’m a yurtie!” she smiled. “It’s a unique experience, and what’s better than spending time with good friends, having fun and eating? The food is fabulous, Lisa is fabul

This article appears in the Winter 2019 Issue of Territory Magazine.