Friday, October 24, 2008

They know my name at the Breakers

At least some of them do. Well, Bob's cousin's son does and he works at the Breakers as day manager. And I think the owner Derek knows me by now. After all the hours I've spent sitting at the bar with my laptop using the free wifi he should. I hope we're not just one of the summer people to him. At least he has been friendly and attentive recently. Also for some reason he's doing alot more waiting tables himself. New girlfriend in evidence last night. Maybe that has something to do with it.

We arrived last night about 6:30 and bar was full and noisy. Thought it was the Volunteer Fire Department night - they go out for rowdy beers after the weekly training meeting and we've encountered them before. But that's on Wednesday. No, it was just the weekday after work crowd. Lots of tradesmen. Lots of beer. Lots of smoking. Things got alot quieter after happy hour was over.

We sat at a table to wait for cousins Chris and Frank and moved against the wall to avoid the smoke. Some nights it's not too bad and others it's awful. By the time we get home we often have to toss all our clothes in the hamper and shower and wash our hair. Don't get how people can tolerate that. But then don't get why Michigan doesn't want to outlaw smoking in bars either.

But back to the ambiance. Can't quite figure out why I like it except that I've never had a neighborhood bar and I like having one. Definitely never went into a bar where the day manager and the owner knew me, knew my husband, and knew where I lived. I even kind of like the backwoods sports bar local historical color.

And I have to say the food is improving. Burgers have always been great. Locally brewed Bell's Oberon beer has been our favorite draft choice for quite a while. Wine option has gotten better (but stemless glasses are embarassingly not chic here). And last night ordered Wing Dings and salad and even the side salad has been upgraded from service in a plastic bowl to service on an oval china platter. The Johnny Walker Black isn't bad either.

I really would like to go some night to listen to loud music and dance drunkenly on the bar. Yea, right. When that happens everybody really will know my name...and not in a good way.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dinner in Another Dimension

Having promised Aunt Beth dinner out all summer, we impulsively scheduled a last minute date for last night and suggested the Dam Site Inn, a place that to me has always been like visiting the dining room of a very nice retirement home. But I have been craving fried chicken all summer and they do do it right - that, and they seem amazingly successful at identifying their niche, which would be catering to the over 60...maybe 70...maybe over 80 crowd. Aunt Beth is about to be 88 next week so she was enthused. Really, I'm sentimental about the place as it was where my Hubbie announced to about 10 members of his family that at 62, he was finally engaged. I remember the cloud of total silence that enveloped our table as we waited for congratulations or at least some ribbing. After a minute or two passed without any sort of reaction from anybody, Uncle Ernie - at the time probably about 80 himself - leaned towards a nearby waitress and said "Could I have another cup of coffee?" and dinner went forward as though nothing at all had been said. How could I not be fond of the place?

It's about a 20 minute drive over the back roads to semi-rural Michigan to get there. The autumn color was nice, the air crisp and the fancy carved pumpkin display in the foyer was cute. The table clothes are linen, and the view of the pond and adjacent farm fields is serene. It's really a kinda comforting destination and what's not to like about a place that makes you feel young? After a slow promenade across the main dining room (they were very good about accomodating Beth who travels with a cane), winding our way between full tables of families with their elders and oddly out of time and place, two young women in prom dresses, we were seated at the windows on the pink porch.

Beth and I ordered the (what else?) family dinner with fried chicken and Bob had to have his annual portion of fried frog legs - which I think he has more on principle than affinity. Nothing has changed on this menu since I first went there and I was especially relived to see the retro relish tray. It makes me think of the kind of thing my Mom would put out on Christmas Eve to keep up happy nibbling while dinner cooked: green onions sticking out of the stainless steel revolving serving tray, a circle of little containers with little forks for pickled beets, cranberry relish, olives, corn relish (ala Neiman Marcus'), ++. And when dinner came it was tough to be hungry enough to do justice to the perfect fried chicken, the very chunky egg noodles in chicken gravy, the mint peas, the mashed potatoes...biscuits and honey and did I say gravy? The chicken is actually quite good, a light crust, not greasy. Ugggghhh, sorry to say we ate nearly all of it and Beth took home the only two leftover pieces of chicken.

That should hold me for a while. I'm going on a fast.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Slow Food speaking to me

Am reading this amazing book... well, am reading it between English mysteries, novels about the American West and early explorers in Florida, and the audio version of "Guns, Germs & Steel"...anyway, there's so much food for thought here, I can't read it straight through and must put it down and "digest" some of it (hey-hey).

But for instance, the early chapters are about corn. Am astonished to re-think corn as possibly a life form that is manipulating humans to it's own benefit. Did anyone else not know that corn is the only grain that cannot reproduce itself without human assistance? And look how we have accomodated! Corn hybridized to grow in all corners of North America! Corn fed animals that were never meant to eat corn, high fructose corn syrup in everything, vehicles powered by corn alcohol! We've cooperated! What exactly does corn have in mind for us?

The late, equally provoking chapters are about his excercise in creating a truly local meal in the San Francisco area, including hunting and gathering everything to be served. Interesting musings on the hunting and urban gathering experience (polluted abolone, chanterelle competition, facing down wild pigs & property rights re cherry trees). And who knew that one could gather yeast right out of city air?

All of this and then finding out that there were 60,000 people at the Slow Foods Nation (convention) where they say the huge public vegetable garden the city has put in front of city hall and my intentions to reconnect with the Dallas Slow Food chapter are energized by reading this declaration:

We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time. Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources, and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population, and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.
These realities call for a radically different approach to food and agriculture. We believe that the food system must be reorganized on a foundation of health: for our communities, for people, for animals, and for the natural world. The quality of food, and not just its quantity, ought to guide our agriculture. The ways we grow, distribute, and prepare food should celebrate our various cultures and our shared humanity, providing not only sustenance, but justice, beauty and pleasure.
Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food, and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. Individuals, producers, and organizations have a duty to create regional systems that can provide healthy food for their communities. We all have a duty to respect and honor the laborers of the land without whom we could not survive. The changes we call for here have begun, but the time has come to accelerate the transformation of our food and agriculture and make its benefits available to all.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thinking about diversity

The main thing we've learned about gardening this year is that it's unpredictible (yeah yeah this is not new news to farmers). Last year the lack of rain made watering a tedious task and made harvests pitiful. This year too much rain (?) or too cool weather (?) or ineptitude of the gardeners (?) made harvests more pitiful. We arrived in Northern Michigan early this year (May 21) to get the garden in a couple of weeks early in hopes of an extra large English pea crop. We got zippo peas. The weeks of cool and rain made planting the premie baby heirloom tomatoes impossible so I nurtured them right into rotting and had to go buy hybrids. Next although the rain was great, the grass totally took over everything since BOTH my arms are too wimpy for much hoeing. Lost the green beans to weeds and grass. And to add insult to injury today when I went to check on the skimpy row of beets I had just painfully weeded and nurtured, I found them totally gone and a big-long-toed footprint providing evidence that some creature had enjoyed them recently.

HOWEVER, we're still getting more lettuce than we can eat or give away and the radishes were highly successful and somehow also extremely amusing. I forgot I had bought a variety of radish called "Easter Egg" and that's exactly what they look like. Mostly oval and 3-4 different colors. That's why I'm thinking about diversity of plant crops, species, life forms, whatever. Who knows what the next failure will be and the world needs alot of backup plans.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Celebrating burgers & clan

So this year the weather was gloriously perfect, everyone who had been hiding indoors because of the crummy June weather came out and most of them launched boats, cousin Donna and I had made two parades by noon and we had 25 of the clan for burgers in our front yard. Thank goodness the elders used to host lots of card parties so we have an inventory of rickety card tables and lovely applicade and embroidered linen clothes to go over them. Actually logistics is about all I did since I gave up control of the menu and asked for pot luck and Bob cooked the burgers. Predictably, narry a gourmet treat arrived, but not having to do much work was a good trade off and I could concentrate on my wine.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Staff of life

Noun 1. staff of life - food made from dough of flour or meal and usually raised with yeast or baking powder and then baked

Per my previous post about making bread, I am again amazed at the science and the miracle of elements changing form, especiallly with so little effort. And I found a breadmaker at the Salvation Army Store for $4.50...a shopping coup that somehow justifies alot of other questionable purchases. And it works! [It's the big box here, sitting next to the ice cream maker...another whole topic.]

Contrary to the elemental process described in a post below where everything composes itself slowly in an archaic iron pot, with the bread machine, you carefully layer in the ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, water, yeast) then push a button, the machine flashes some control panel lights and then things start thumping around and go on and off in mysterious sequences. But then voila, 3 hours later, you lift the lid and take out a loaf of perfect bread. In fact, it's really good bread and extremely hard not to cut into it immediately and/or stop at one piece. As a bonus, the kitchen smells really good for several hours. AND you can forget about it and it turns itself off and waits for you to come and get the loaf out when you're ready!

I think part of the attraction to making bread is knowing what exactly is inside something you are putting in your mouth. That rarely happens these days, and even something as elemental as fruit usually needs to have the pesticides washed off or the dirt scrubbed. God only knows where our mass produced meat has been. Our helper friend John who brought me a dozen eggs today from his own hens, just said that since it's been raining he has had to discard a bunch of eggs that got muddy from the hen's feet because you can't wash eggs since the shell if so porous it forces the dirt into the interior of the shell (who knew?).

So no wonder bread is the Staff of Life. Simple, pure, minimal ingredients. OK except for the fact that yeast is a living breathing thing that needs some TLC which is spooky. More later.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not Cooking Still Eating

It's been 42 days since I broke my right arm in 3 places. 42 days of one-handedness and varying degrees of pain and discomfort. 42 days of not cooking and not caring all that much about food.
Although a couple of weeks ago - when the meals from friends and neighbors stopped coming - I did decide to try doing some assembly type meal preparation. I dragged a heavy skillet out with my left hand and turned on the flame with my left hand and threw some cherry tomatoes and already cut-up mushrooms into the same pan as some left over pasta all with my left hand. That felt dangerous enough to deter me for a few more days. Another time all by myself I boiled water for the rotini shells that came in the Annie's Mac and Cheese box but had to get help mixing in the powered sauce, which was humbling. That's the pitiful extent of the cooking I've done for the past 6 weeks.
One would think I would be down to skin and bones by now but not true. Athough I can confirm that pain does reduce the appetite, the best I can report is that maybe a few pounds have evaporated and my slothfulness has at least not led to a gain. When oh when will I get my food loving, cooking, cutting, slicing and dicing, party planning self back? [insert audio file here of long whining sound]