Ballerina Gavin Larsen

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Our Sugar Plum Fairy in the Land of Sweets

gavin larsenGavin has a few hours before she’ll head across town to rehearsal. She leads me into her upstairs apartment in John’s Landing, between downtown and the Willamette River. The Portland Aerial Tram glides directly overhead.

Laughing warmly while she strides, Gavin assures me that she’s become a less picky eater than when she was a little girl. For an entire year, she ate mainly vanilla and lemon-flavored yogurts, she proclaims. Inside her bright, red and yellow kitchen, she stands perfectly straight, her shoulders still, her feet slightly out-turned in what resembles fifth position. Gavin is an Oregon Ballet Theatre company dancer, and one of five ballerinas who will play the Sugar Plum Fairy in this season’s run of The Nutcracker—twenty-two shows in Portland and six in Anchorage.

For countless Portlanders, The Nutcracker brings tradition and magic into grey, chilly December. For a few hours we live amid childhood fantasies of Mouse Kings and toy soldiers, only to wake into a Land of Sweets. Yet for Gavin, The Nutcracker isn’t a fleeting night’s reverie; it’s a daily fact. The show has swallowed her December whole since she was an elementary school girl dancing in her first Nutcracker performance. “It absolutely shapes my Christmas season,” she confesses, “which ironically makes it tough to have any sort of traditional holiday.”

For the moment, Gavin is at rest. Her apartment is an escape from ballet where she and her cat relax. There is no Mouse King in her home (she hopes) nor even a nutcracker to defeat him. Yet inevitably, her ballet schedule dictates when she eats, when she shops, and how much energy she has for cooking.

With practiced grace, her legs straight and head aloft, she leans in toward her small fridge and tugs it open.

Food Stashes

I tend to snack all day. I’m sort of like a little rodent with stashes of food all over the place. I always have protein bars, Clif Bars, or trail mix. I eat a bite here, a bite there, because our lunch break isn’t until 2:30, and I can’t wait that long. Plus, an hour isn’t enough time to eat a meal, digest and return to dancing. I usually just finish whatever I haven’t eaten yet, sew my point shoes, stretch, and go to my next rehearsal.

Grant Central Panini

Before a performance week,
I go to Grand Central Bakery where my favorite thing is the walnut-raisin panini. I get half a dozen, slice them all, wrap each one in foil, and put them in the freezer. For lunch, I take one out, toast it, and add butter and turkey. Mmm. It’s my favorite.

She pulls out a container of turkey that sits next to two cartons of eggs.


I’m big into trying to make sure I get enough protein. That’s the easiest thing to forget. I am so anti- vegetarian. She blushes. I’m not anti-vegetarianism, but for myself, I eat animal protein at least two meals a day— mostly poultry.

Refrigerator Remedies

This glucosamine juice, to help my joints, is disgusting so I haven’t been drinking it. It’s super duper sweet and cloying, like cough syrup times ten. In my freezer, there are mostly ice packs. The packages of frozen corn are ice packs too. That’s why there are three of them. You definitely don’t want to eat them, because they’ve been frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed every time I ice my ankles.


Now I’m much more adventuresome. I get the Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s. Wait, there’s one more! What’s this? She laughs. There is a Nancy’s Lemon Yogurt, but it’s unsweetened. Huh, I wonder how that’s going to be.

Market of Choice

I discovered this supermarket in my new neighborhood: Market of Choice over on Terwilliger. I was browsing around, and found these cranberry lamb sausages. I also picked up a piece of carrot cake. I have such an insatiable sweet tooth, so I always have some sort of dessert. I have to eat chocolate every day. That’s why I have a Tupperware of chocolate back here. For me, chocolate isn’t an indulgence—it’s a necessity.

Frozen Salmon Fillets

I like to cook but I’ve fallen out of the habit lately. During the summer when my schedule was a lot freer, I’d go to the farmers’ markets two or three times a week and cook up fun stuff. The farmers’ markets are incredible, and I go crazy with them. Now, with performances and rehearsals, the truth is I come home and I don’t want to stand up in the kitchen and chop and sauté. In the freezer I have a frozen pizza and “farm-raised hazelnut and pecan encrusted salmon fillets.” Those will be my dinners this week.

Gavin closes the freezer and leans against her yellow tile counter.

When I was small I remember having frozen fish sticks for dinner often. Money was tight; my parents were trying to raise two kids in New York City on a teacher’s salary. My mom tells me stories of being so proud because she was able to feed all four of us for a week on a packet of Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks and a bag of peas. It cost a dime a person.

Newspaper Recipes

My mom also has a hamburger soup that she’s famous for in our family. We still have the original 1970s newspaper clipping. When my sister and I are home, she trots it out. I also now have a little pile of recipe clippings from the newspaper. Right here are “Autumn Salad of Caramelized Vegetables, Greens, and Garlic Pine Nut Dressing” and a Japanese cabbage pancake: Okonomiyaki. It sounded easy. And I love how you can put anything you want in it.

In Her Fantasy Land of Sweets?

There would be a little bit of everything there. I have an insatiable sweet tooth. There would be cookies and ice cream. In fact, my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream because it has everything in it. What kind of cookies? Oh, I don’t discriminate. I prefer them kind of chewy, sort of large, not too brittle…but really anything. And that’s how I feel about the Land of Sweets.
It should have a little bit of everything. And definitely chocolate.

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