Day 1: Novice Roadtrippers

I might have mentioned before that we’re not good at road tripping. Which is to say: we don’t enjoy driving. Long drives almost always mean traffic, construction, excessive junk food, and, if we’re visiting my family, terrible weather. Seriously, it storms almost every time we drive west. So when I suggested that instead of going to Portland – our proposed vacation destination – that we take a road trip somewhere, you need to realize that we were going out on a serious limb.

After some discussion, we settled on a plan: camping in Wisconsin, followed by a few days in Madison or Chicago or both. And instead of taking awful 94 through awful Chicago traffic, we’d go the long way ’round Lake Michigan – north to the tip of the Mitten, over into the UP, and then south along the Wisconsin side of the lake. We resolved to avoid the interstate whenever possible, and to stop wherever suited our fancy: historical markers, dive-y restaurants, intriguing attractions. I was in charge of researching accommodations, while Shane looked into places to eat, helpfully plotting them out by number of hours along that day’s drive.

And so we set off, heading due north on 75 on a beautiful day. First stop? The Cheesehouse – or, more properly, Pinconning Cheese Co.

The Cheesehouse

The Cheesehouse

We both love cheese, as you well know, but weren’t expecting much from this roadside attraction. Which is to say that we found lots of uninspiring cheese, a few tasty cheese spreads, and an impressive array of meat sticks that Shane snacked on for the next few days. Our total came in below the $5 credit card limit, so we also got a giant pickle that literally had to be held with two hands and made the car smell like dill and garlic.

Our first true road meal came at Spike’s Keg O Nails in Grayling, MI:

Spike's Keg O Nails

Spike’s has been operating in this location since the day after Prohibition was repealed. The menu explained the history of the bar, which has had five owners in its 78 year history. It’s exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find in a smallish town, and exactly the sort of ambiance you’d hope for on a Friday night: lots of townies eating fried fish and drinking cheap beer around small tables.

First Vacation Beers

Who were we to question a good thing? The fried fish was fantastic: crisp batter and flaky tender white fish accompanied by the typical Midwest sides: cole slaw, choice of potato (fries), and a dinner roll. We skipped the roll and split a salad, and were totally pleased with our $15 dinner.

Not wanting to jump right back into the car, we took a walk around downtown Grayling, where we tamed a ferocious beast, sat by the river, and generally started to ease into vacation mode.

Au Sable River

Post-Prandial

We still had a few hours left in our drive, however, so it was back in the car and due north for us, stopping only for a Whippy Dip detour:

Whippy Dip

First Vacation Ice Cream

and a scenic overlook:

If You Seek A Pleasant Peninsula

A Pleasant Peninsula indeed.

Sour Cherry Sorbet + Boozy Cherries

Tart Cherries

I follow the Ann Arbor Farmers Market on Twitter, and when I saw that cherries were available at the Wednesday morning market, I made a significant detour on my way to work, arriving at the office with smoked fish and two kinds of cherries – tart and sweet – and no plan for what to do with them. That is, apart from eating them by the handful.

Two options presented themselves, both delicious and infused with and/or involving alcohol. First, Sour Cherry Lambic Sorbet using a recipe from Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream fame. Despite Shane’s giant beer stash (not BeerStache), we didn’t have a lambic on hand – and the New Glarus Cherry Stout was deemed too precious for ice cream. A Founder’s Cerise would have to suffice.

Take a couple of cups of sour cherries pitted, then blended til smooth. Combine with a cup of Cerise and a not so simple syrup, freeze in the ice cream maker, and stick in the freezer for a couple of hours. Serve to a half dozen friends who have just devoured ribs and are halfway through a pretty epic round of beer tasting.

Sour Cherry Sorbet

The rest? Well, let’s say that they’re destined for great things – and that I’ve finally found a use for the bottle of Crown Royal that we unearthed in my grandparents’ basement two Christmases ago, tucked far back on a shelf next to a box of cereal that expired in 1998.  The next 6 weeks are going to be torturous – but then oh the Manhattans I will drink!

Boozy Cherries in process

Boozy Cherries

Recipes:
Sour Cherry Cerise Sorbet from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream by way of Food & Wine – and now I really can’t wait to get her cookbook!
The Boozy Cherries recipe came from Put ’em Up!, a present from my fantastic friend Janet. I couldn’t find the recipe online anywhere, but it’s very similar to this one from our friends at Well Preserved.

Lent

I’m not Catholic, but I really like the idea of Lent. This is closely related to why the Camino resonates so intensely with me – the idea of sacrifice as meditative practice, a way of becoming more focused on a specific thing, whether it is your faith or your awareness of the world around you. In previous years, I’ve given up shopping for craft supplies, plastic bags, beer, and chocolate. This year, I’ve decided to give up ice cream, something I enjoy immensely and crave basically all the time. On Tuesday, even though it was cold, I grabbed a “plain sundae” on my way home from running errands.

Last Ice Cream for 40 Days

While it certainly was no Jeni’s, it was a delicious treat, and the days will be many and long until I can enjoy it again.

In lieu of giving something up, one year I decided to spend the 40 days of Lent taking better care of myself. I don’t recall that it actually had much measurable effect; however, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to do the same during Lent this year. There are a variety of personal care things that I’ve just, well, never been very good at remembering to do. These include, but are not limited to, washing my face and flossing. I tend to remember to take care of myself only when something goes wrong – I break out, I remember to wash my face for a week, my skin clears up, and I forget about it. In the next few weeks, I’m going to try to do better – in hopes of establishing healthy habits.

When did I get so high maintenance?

It’s been two days, and so far I have flossed every night, washed my face every morning (and after work outs!), used moisturizer, and drank more water than usual. Off to a good start.

A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.

1211 Living the Dream

Pinkberry!
Photo by yosoynuts

Remember when you were a kid and imagined what being a grown up would be like?  Well, today I lived the dream.  I had ice cream for lunch, and pizza for dinner.  Just ice cream – OK, frozen yogurt.  Just pizza.  And I sat on the couch and watched three movies in a row.

Never mind that it was 30 degrees out, and I picked up the (fat-free, topped with fruit) frozen yogurt after a run on snowy roads.  Never mind that I attempted to make the pizza more healthy, with cracker-thin crust and light cheese.  So maybe I was living a grown up version of the dream?

A Week of Bachelor Eating

I could tell you all of the pathetic meals I dreamed up while Shane was gone.  We hadn’t totally restocked the fridge, and I wasn’t totally in cooking mode yet.  I went to Ferndale for a half day, and then had houseguests for three nights.  My meal planning went something like this:

  1. Open the fridge.  Stare at the contents.
  2. Open the crisper drawers.  Move a few things around.
  3. Open the cabinet.  Stare at the contents.
  4. Return to the fridge.  Complain to the cats that I didn’t want to eat anything in the fridge.

And so it went for nearly a week while Shane ate his fill of schnitzel and weird vegetable terrines, with the occasional good meal sandwiched between a lot of odd conference food.  One night I had yogurt, a pear, and peanut butter toast for dinner.  Another night my Couchsurfers treated me to dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had excellent, if overly mustardy, pulled pork and we split two desserts three ways:

Roadhouse Dessert

After the Roadhouse dinner, I was determined to get my ass back in the kitchen, so I pressed a block of tofu overnight and made this:

Proof that I did cook at least once while Shane was gone

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, one crushed, the other thinly sliced

Press the tofu in the fridge overnight to get rid of excess moisture. Slice into 8-10 slices of roughly equal sizes, then marinate in the remaining ingredients for 30 minutes to one hour, then broil until cooked through and golden, about 10 minutes on each side.

For the sprouts:
1-2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, halved, stem end removed
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter, then add the garlic and saute until golden. Add your sprouts and cook over medium heat until a little golden and a little wilted. I find it’s helpful to cover the sprouts to help them sweat a bit. Yum yum.

I also had a great squash idea, involving one acorn squash and some leftover pancetta:

green tomato, acorn squash, other squash all home grown
Photo by burtonwood + holmes

Preheat your oven to 375. Take a small acorn squash. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. It’s probably safest to cut off the top so that you have a flat surface and the squash doesn’t rock around. Place your squash halves on a baking sheet and add a spoonful of brown sugar to each half. Top each half with a thin slice of pancetta, then place in the oven. Forget about it for an hour or so until your house smells amazing. The pancetta will be crispy, and the interior of the squash flavorful from the rendered fat and the brown sugar. You might want a pinch of salt, but that’s about all you’ll need.

Long story short: I’m glad Shane’s home and that we can go back to eating like civilized people.