Archive Page 4

turtle tally

This has been a whacky, lark of a summer to be sure. I’m currently trying to block out the fact that a trip to the Minnesota State Fair is simply not in my cards this year. The last of the garlic crop just recently made it’s way into the curing shed – a record late harvest. I was stunned to find myself picking and freezing snap peas well into the second week of August. Peas! In August! Meanwhile I cannot grow a zucchini this summer to save my life. And clearly I have not been in the pig pen writing nearly as much as I like.

aglio-rossa garlic

About the only constant this summer held was my highly anticipated respite to the Boundary Waters. It’s the one week I count on to let my body work and my mind rest. And this year’s trip couldn’t come soon enough.

Rounding up the necessary gear and preparing food for the trail has become such a systematic ritual that I can generally do all of the preparations in less than a day. But the one thing that always stumps me is what to read on the trail. I’ve finally broken myself of the habit of bringing more than one book, so the one I choose needs to be just right. Engaging enough so I’ll stay awake for a chapter or two after a day of paddling, but not so gripping that I hover in my sleeping bag with a head lamp for half the night. Ideally it should be just the right length – certainly not so short that I finish before the end of the trip, but anything much over just means extra weight to portage. The older I get, the more this matters.

I stopped by our used bookstore a few days before the trip and found a handful of contenders. In the end, I settled on Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. I’m sure I must have read this classic in high school, but with all due respect Mrs. Richardson, I have absolutely no recollection of it. It was a tad on the thin side, but I decided to risk it. And I’m glad I did. Cather swept me straight away to a simpler, slower – albeit harder – time on the plains.

Only fourteen pages in and I bonded hard with little Jimmy Burden who had just been spit out onto his grandparents’ farm in Nebraska.

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin…The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

I was struck that wilderness camping – living outdoors, pairing down necessities to the essentials, and simply focusing on the day’s journey – brings me true, entire happiness. And, like Jim experienced in the pumpkin patch, I do not crave anything more. Living like this, even if only for a week, sheds everything that isn’t real. There is no time for things that deliver false or partial happiness. Turning up a tube of lip balm to meet cracked, weathered lips is happiness. Watching an orange sun rise through a filmy mist on the water is happiness. Diving into the tent to escape a relentless cloud of mosquitos is happiness.

canoeing

Every trip to the Boundary Waters reminds me of how surprisingly simple it can be to let ourselves experience complete contentedness. Camping certainly isn’t everybody’s trigger, but we all have one. It’s just a matter of knowing how to access it.

For me it is the uncomplicated lifestyle that camping delivers. It makes for a challenging reentry into the “real world” when your biggest responsibility for a week is to keep a daily turtle tally. Still it’s a job I indulge in thoroughly. Turtles are notoriously bashful. The key to spotting them is to be quiet and move slowly, just like a turtle. No matter how turtle-like you become though, you can only get so close before a sunning turtle scuttles from its perch and plops into the safety of the cool water. These turtles, I’m certain, know what it means to be dissolved into something complete and great. When things get hard, I try and imagine my life as a turtle.

turtle

This year’s turtle total was eight, a little low, but still respectable. Number seven the only one who wasn’t camera shy. But all eight of them reminded me to live deliberately, to soak it in, and to not want to be anything more.

sunset

perfect sweetness

I am, like a lot of us, a creature of habit. I thrive on routine. Which is precisely why I appreciate the expansiveness of summer. It shakes up my world in all the best ways.

pea pile

It’s such a treat to stay up late with one last glass of wine on the patio, even though it’s a Tuesday. Or to be able to sneak away to my sweet corn fort to drink my morning coffee in secret. I love veering off course to follow an unexpected line of hot squishy tar with my bare feet.

I like trying to predict if the wind has dramatically altered the water temperature of the Lake Superior bay I’m about to jump into, knowing I’m committed either way. I don’t need an excuse to paint my toes a garish color. Or to make an ice cream run at 3:00 in the afternoon. I can take my yoga out to the warm grass and my hula hoop to the beach.

And I love that I can spoon hot buttered peas over toast and call it dinner. Could there possibly be anything better? I wrangle the last pea into my spoon, and sigh. My head and heart as full as my belly.

toasty peas

Peas on Toast

2 cups shelled peas
3 cloves young, fresh garlic, sliced thin*
2-3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons broth or stock
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
coarse or flaked salt and pepper to taste
sliced bread for toast

Warm the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and let it infuse the butter for a few minutes. Stir in the peas, stock, and thyme. Cover and let the peas simmer for about 5 minutes, or until they reach your preferred level of doneness. I like mine to have a little tooth to them. While the peas simmer, make your toast and lightly butter it. Spoon peas over toast and season with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

*If you can’t lay your hands on this season’s fresh garlic, I might omit it. Cured garlic will overpower the perfect sweetness of the peas.

clutter and fluff

I’ve sort of been on an unintended hiatus. Everything is fine, but the problem is that I’ve gone and gotten myself into an introspective hole. Those of you who know me well might be scratching your heads, wondering how this is different than normal. But I dove deep this time. Too deep almost, to write. I’m just now coming up for air.

stoked

I blame this unexpected episode on my approaching birthday. It’s not really getting older that has me all wound up. But it does have to do with the age I’m about to turn. Forty two. I’ve anticipated this birthday for a long time. If you’ve read Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” you will recall that 42 is the Answer. But of course (as our heros learn) the crux of it all lies in discovering the exact right question. You know the one – about Life, the Universe, and Everything!

It sounds silly, I know, to revolve my life around a science fiction novel, but I can’t help it. If 42 is indeed the Answer, then I want to be ready. I want my mind well prepared for when the question comes. So I’ve put in some serious time lately, thinking about all the little things that make up my life, the universe, and everything. I’ve turned off the auto-pilot and have instead made an effort to examine things head-on. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of all consuming way. An introspective hole sort of way.

Now don’t laugh. I’m not expecting to have it “all figured out” by the time I reach 42, but I do feel like I should have a pretty good grasp on what makes me tick. And mostly I do. The challenge, I’m realizing, is cutting out all of the clutter and fluff that gets in the way. It’s a lot of work keeping the landing strip clear.

I’ll be careful here, because I am still teetering on the edge of my hole. But this lead up to 42 has taught me something about myself. We live in a world that continually offers us more. The access that most of us have to places, people, music, food, literature, art, information, and stuff of all sorts is absolutely stunning. And that’s good, right?

hot compost

Maybe, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s taken me a lot of work to discover that what I really want is less. Less of the empty noise for sure, but even less of all the brilliant things that are right at my fingertips. The fact that we can tap into so much, so frequently sometimes leaves me feeling a little diluted. I have to admit that some days I crave a smaller world.

As 42 approaches, that’s what I’m after. Deliberate smallness. I figure the best way to invite less into my life is to be mindful. To remember that it’s possible (more likely even) to find richness in the ordinary. To turn off distractions and tune into exactly what is in front of me. Because with all probability, the the real question is lurking someplace as innocuous as my compost pile.

party-compost

smile power

I got my start as a graphic designer laying out ads for a newspaper in southern Minnesota. I had an old fashioned “in and out” box on my desk. Am I dating myself? Ad copy would pile up in the “in” box and finished ads loitered in the “out” box, waiting to be proofed. Every so often our proof reader, Hallie, would come by and empty my “out” box. She’d return my stack a few hours later.

My routine was to pour a cup of coffee and thumb my way through the return pile. Most ads had minor corrections. Ads that were perfect though got a signature Hallie smiley face scrawled with her blue proofer’s pen. Oh how I loved to find a perky little smiley face lurking in the corner. Ads that were really messed up got a confused face. And if an ad came through the proofing rotation more than twice, you could expect an evil stink eye. Shudder.

stink-eye

It quickly became clear to me that Hallie was a master. Nothing got by her. And boy could she draw a smiley face. I marveled at her ability to give a simple little face so much expression. Her faces frequently made my day. I actually started a smiley face file. Every once and a while I’d clip a face until slowly I amassed an envelope full of smileys. And let me tell you, when you’re feeling down and you dump out a pile of smiley faces that someone has drawn, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit better. It’s been over 10 years since I left the paper, but I still have my envelope of smileys tucked in my desk drawer. Just in case.

The staff at the paper was small and frequently we’d gather together for lunch at the back table, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. Hallie’s kids and grandkids are scattered all over the country and I loved hearing about their lives. She could also talk food and gardening to no end. Truly a woman after my own heart. We shared many meals and swapped many recipes.

ruby-stems

I start every rhubarb season off with a batch of Hallie’s rhubarb muffins. Made with brown sugar, they have a rich carmel flavor that pairs beautifully with tart rhubarb. Last week I baked my third round of Hallie’s muffins in as many weeks. They’re that good. I packed a few muffins and a thermos of tea to take out to the bee yard for a hive check. My two new hives have been limping along with the cold spring weather – which has resulted in me clucking around them like a nervous mother hen.

Out at the bee yard I pull the lid off of hive one and find a gorgeous queen, busy at work. Her brood pattern is good, but it’s still in small patches on the frames. Her hive population is small too – all young nurse bees and not many foragers. I close up the hive and give them a reassuring pat. The situation in hive two, however, is all together brighter. After multiple hive checks, I’ve yet to lay eyes on this queen, but that hardly matters. My heart leaps at her handiwork – frame after frame of perfectly laid brood. In a week or two this hive will be bursting with bees.

I remove my veil and take a seat on an empty pallet for a cup of tea and a muffin. I decide to call the elusive queen in hive two Hallie Frances. She has earned a smiley face, no question. I think I’ll even tape one of Hallie’s smileys to her hive for extra encouragement. I mull over hive one. This queen is younger by a good two weeks. I’m confident that she’ll catch up. Last fall I named the daughter of my all-time favorite queen Ella Bella – after another woman whom I respect and admire (childhood idol turned adulthood inspiration). Sadly this little hive did not get a fair shake and they met their match with this winter’s unrelenting cold. So I decide to call my new underdog queen simply, EB. Hell, maybe I’ll give her a smiley face too. Smile power works – I know.

I pack up and test the voltage on the electric bear fence before I go. Finally I can relax. I’m heading into the summer bee season with two strong ladies at the helm. And that, makes me smile.

yippee!

Hallie Francis’s Rhubarb Muffins
I don’t care for overly sweet rhubarb baked goods, so I do not pack the brown sugar. I also prefer a very rhubarby muffin. Adjust both to suit your taste.

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil (something neutral like canola)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 – 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Cream together brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in rhubarb and optional nuts. Batter will be thick and sticky. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake at 400º for 20 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen regular muffins.

https://garlicpig.com/2012/09/27/season-finale/

key players

I’m hopelessly fickle when it comes to salads. One meal I fall hard for a fiery greek number studded with olives and the next I’m all about avocados laced with sprouts. Days later I’ll proclaim shaved asparagus with lemon and parmesan the best salad ever. I can’t help it. I’m in love with them all.

spring love

But if I absolutely had to pick my most treasured salad, it would have to be the first, no-frills lettuce salad straight from the spring garden. I change it up depending on what’s available, but my go to combination is a head of velvety buttercrunch lettuce tossed with thin radish slices and scallions.

I realize this is hardly a fair time of year to be making such sweeping declarations, but this one I can defend. Even when the sturdy greens of fall start rolling in, I’ll hold tight. A garlicky caesar based kale salad or romaine quarters tossed on the grill with crumbled blue cheese might give these simple inaugural spring salads a run for their money, but if push came to shove, I know which one I’d pick.

Spring is continuing to drag her feet on up into northern Wisconsin. We’ve barely seen a day over 50ºF in the last three weeks. My spinach and lettuce seedlings are perpetually stuck at 3 inches tall. So I nearly cried last week when I opened my highly anticipated Hermit Creek Farm “spring kick-start” CSA box and found all the key players. Gorgeous ruby radish globes, tall perky scallions, and a head of soft, papery thin buttercrunch lettuce. I think I actually had to sit down and catch my breath.

Of course with every salad comes the conundrum of dressing. Typically I am not a creamy salad dressing sort of person. I’ll take a vinaigrette or even just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and coarse salt over a cream dressing almost any day. Mayonnaise and buttermilk hardly ever get involved. So it’s peculiar that my choice dressing for my proclaimed darling is cream. Almost pure cream. With just a splash of vinegar and pinch of sugar added. The sweet, tangy light cream makes a perfect shroud for spring lettuce. It’s creamy, but it’s delicate. It doesn’t overtake the greens – my number one rule with any dressing.

farmhouse dressing

You remember Grandma Myrtle? Well this was her go to dressing. I learned about this sweet little concoction from my mom, years ago and almost by mistake when we were in the kitchen throwing together a salad. It’s one of those simple unwritten recipes that so easily could have been overlooked and lost. Fortunately it has found its way into one more kitchen. I come back to it every spring with the arrival of tender lettuce. And I always think of Myrtle bustling about in her farmhouse kitchen.

Farmhouse Cream Dressing

2-3 tablespoons cream
1-2 tablespoons vinegar (I use rice)
1-2 teaspoons sugar
fresh ground pepper

Mix together and adjust flavors to your liking. Serve over fresh greens.

bee season

I had forgotten what a tremendous, sad mess a dead box of bees can be. When I discovered this past February that I had lost all three of my hives, I sealed them up to keep rodents out and left them sit until the spring weather hit. But a few weeks ago – after I got fed up with waiting for the spring weather – I decided I had better tackle the job. I went out to the bee yard on a chilly, bright afternoon to get things tidied up for the new bees that would be arriving in a few weeks.

sad-mess

Without live bees in the hive boxes to regulate, moisture starts to accumulate and leaves things dank, damp and moldy. Add in clumps of slowly decaying wet bees and you’ve got one unfortunate state of affairs. Still, it was satisfying work to scrape everything clean, remove dark, old honeycomb past its prime, and bring home a few pieces of equipment for minor repairs.

Two of the hives were still loaded with honey, which means the girls probably died a temperature related death. Their populations could have been too small to generate the warmth they needed, or it simply could have been too cold for too long, preventing them from breaking away from the main cluster to access their food stores. The third hive was perilously low on honey, which means they might have starved. The colder it is, the more honey the bees go through.

No matter the cause, it’s a heart wrenching situation to see all of those limp little bee carcasses. I decided to collect as many bees as I could to bring back to my garden compost pile. I figure the best way to honor their lives is to return them to the soil where they can continue to give in another way. I ended up with a whopping 6 pounds of dead bees. And I was just about to tip them into the compost pile when my husband’s life flashed before my eyes.

What happens, I wondered, to bee venom as it decomposes? Does it become completely inert? Even after five years of shots to treat an off the charts allergy to honeybee venom, Mark is still highly reactive. It occurred to me that adding 6 pounds of venom filled bees to the compost might be an issue. It’s bad enough that Mark has to put up with my high risk hobby. The thought of sending him into anaphylaxis over a venom laced carrot seemed plain rude. It was a far fetched notion, I admit, but still, I thought it was worth looking into.

barrow-of-bees

I called Mark’s allergist, who was on the forefront of treatment for bee allergies twenty years ago (they actually used to use live bees!). He chuckled at my predicament and said he didn’t think it would be an issue. Though he did suggest checking with an expert, just to make sure. I e-mailed the University of Minnesota Bee Lab who said that while it’s possible to get “stung” from a recently dead bee by brushing it away, a dead, dried, and composted bee shouldn’t be a problem. One “didn’t think” coupled with one “shouldn’t be” seemed reasonable enough.

I got my companions turned into the compost heap just as my good friend Kris was setting up two “nucs” for me from her 20-plus hive apiary. A nuc (rhymes with “fluke”) is essentially a miniature hive that contains a new queen and a few frames of brood covered with young nurse bees to attend to the larvae and queen. After the nucs are set up Kris monitors them for a couple of weeks to make sure the new queens are laying and that the hives are building their populations.

My nucs were eventually ready to go, but the spring weather simply wasn’t. I picked up my new bees from Kris last week on a rather miserable, rainy, 40º F day. It was definitely too cold and wet to transfer the bees into their full size boxes. Bee season was barely out of the gates and already I was in a quandary. I decided my best bet was to  bundle the two mini hives together for warmth, make sure they had food and pollen, and like usual – hope for the best.

bundle-up

By Friday the weather had turned enough to make the switch. I’ll let the young ladies get settled into their new digs and check them again in a few days to make sure nothing happened to the queens en route. In the meantime I’m restlessly standing by, waiting for the dandelions to bloom (the bee’s first nectar source). Let the season begin!

blooming

garlic report

I think it is  finally safe to say (bang on wood) that the weather has turned. There are still a few random snow piles, desperately hanging on for dear life, but the garlic patch is clearly visible. I’ve even managed to duck out of work an hour early a few nights this week and sneak off to the garden. It’s my favorite time there – when the light is all slanty and rich. I shake myself a small vodka gimlet, plunk in 3 hazelnuts, and pick out a few seed packets for the evening’s planting. My kind of happy hour.

happy-hour

Traditionally my sugar snap pea crop is in the ground no later than Tax Day. They almost always get a little snow at some point, but that’s the nice thing about peas – they don’t mind. I’ve never planted peas so late, but I finally got two rows in on Tuesday evening. It might be a lost cause if the weather turns too hot, too fast. But after mulling it over for about a half a second, I decided it’s worth the gamble.

I’m anxious to see how the early summer plays out. Will things catch up, or should I resign myself to an agonizing month delay on spring produce? Either way, I refuse to be deterred. I’ve already declared this the year of the garden. Last spring I was too tied up with finishing and moving into a new house to really put much attention into the garden. And the year before that I was on couch probation – recovering from eye surgery. Those gardens still produced food, but they were sorely lacking in character. This year though, I am back on my game. I already have black mulch down, pre warming the hot pepper bed.

And then there is the question of the garlic. When we left off last fall, I was terribly nervous about the effects of what I think was a Phytoplasma bacteria outbreak. On the chance that I planted any infected seed, I’m ready with floating row covers to keep different varieties isolated and protected from the leaf hoppers that transmit the bacteria. So far there is not a leaf hopper in sight. But that hardly matters. There is barely garlic in sight. Here’s a shot of the Aglio Rossa taken on May 15 this year.

garlic-2013

I’ve been pulling back mulch, doling out encouragement and assuring the new sprouts that it doesn’t matter that they’re light years behind where last year’s May crop was. Maybe they’re just trying to mess with the leaf hoppers.

garlic-2012

Nevertheless, I’m planning on a later than nornal harvest this season. Luckily our garlic stores are still holding out. The raw cloves are definitely picking up heat, and there are a few green sprouts to remove, but it still cooks up just fine. Lately though I’ve been on an infused garlic oil kick. It’s a great way to add a nice warm garlic flavor to grains, salads, and lightly steamed vegetables. It takes out any heat or bitterness, leaving only a subtle, smooth garlic flavor.

I picked up this tip from the “prep school” section at the back of a Bon Appétite and it’s a trick that has stuck with me. For maximum flavor let the cloves get almost black (but not burnt) before removing them from the oil.

Garlic Oil

4-5 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel the garlic and crush each clove with the blade of a knife. Heat the oil over low-medium heat and cook the garlic cloves, turning occasionally until the are dark brown to black (about 8 – 10 minutes). Remove and discard garlic, store any unused oil in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

garlic-oil

noodles and butter

Food is complicated. Too complicated, really. But I love food, so I spend a lot of time thinking about it. And there is no shortage of fodder. Books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,  Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, and documentaries such as Food Inc., and Forks Over Knives keep my brain reeling.

Blame the long winter, but I’ve been doing an above average amount of soul searching lately about what I eat and why. And it’s recently struck me that I want to revert back to a vegetarian diet.

Most (but certainly not all) of the animal products I’ve been eating are byproducts of a happy life, raised by people I know and trust. I firmly believe that the small farms I buy meat from, like like Hermit Creek Farm and Pasture Perfect Poultry, create vital ecological systems that are healthy and sustainable. And it feels good to be a part of that cycle. So it’s been confusing to have vegetarianism tugging at my sleeve.

veggie-wonder

I originally became a vegetarian at the ripe age of twelve. I distinctly remember the day I realized that there even was such a thing. An entire group of people who consciously didn’t eat animals? These, I knew, were my people.

My twelve-year-old logic was twofold. I loved animals almost more than anything as a kid. My heart was (and still is) a giant sinkhole of compassion for anything and everything living. I’m the type that says a silent blessing for roadkill. Additionally, I didn’t really like meat – the taste, the texture – nothing about it turned me on. And that’s saying something because my mother is known for her cooking. I certainly couldn’t blame my distaste on dried out chops and rubbery chicken.

I shared this breakthrough with my mom who only responded with, “That’s fine, but you’re not just going to eat noodles and butter.” She then embarked on learning (and teaching me) how to cook like a proper vegetarian. Talk about a mom on her game.

As I learned more about food politics, my reasons grew more ethically and environmentally based. By college I was dabbling with a vegan diet. Though when life landed me on a small organic farm in northern Maine I dutifully tried reintroducing meat – mostly out of a notion that I should take responsibility and be a part of the ecological loop I was helping to create. But it didn’t stick.

Years later, after working with scores of small, sustainably oriented farmers, meat slowly crept back into my diet. I even came to like it. Kind of. The overall number of meat to vegetarian recipes in the Pig archives should tell you something about where my loyalties lie.

bowls-in-waiting

I’ve also been studying the Yoga Sutras this winter. And the first yama, ahimsa – which translates to “do no harm” – really resonates with me. It’s funny, but it took reading it in print to wake up the twelve year old in me. Maybe I’m oversimplifying and skirting details, but if I allow myself to be a kid again, all I can say is that it just feels better not to eat animals – even ones that are impeccably raised.

And for now, that works. I’m trusting my instinct and it feels good. I’ve been rediscovering falafel wraps, hot rutabaga melts, and yes – noodles. But not just any noodles, and certainly not just noodles and butter (thank you mother). I’m talking soba noodles, crunchy vegggies, and flavors so simple that all they can do is shine. I used short sprouted mung beans for this dish, but traditional long mung bean sprouts (or any other sprout) will work just fine.

Fried Noodles with Broccoli & Bean Sprouts
(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food)

5 ounces noodles (soba, udon, or curly ramen)
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
2-3 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups broccoli
2 large handfuls bean sprouts
4 scallions, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine (shao shing)
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Cook noodles in a large pot of salted water until they are barely done and still toothsome. Drain and toss well with 2 tablespoons oil.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a hot wok or large skillet. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and bean sprouts, cooking for another minute or two. Tip in the noodles and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, keeping everything moving over hot heat. Add the scallions, soy sauce and cooking wine. Stir-fry for another minute and remove from heat. Season with a bit of coarse salt and red pepper flakes to taste. (Serves 2-3)

fried-noodles

sandwich trials

My friend Julie is a farm girl through and through. She grew up on a southern Wisconsin dairy farm. Julie is the type who works until the work is done. And she’ll take on just about anything. The other thing about Julie is that she doesn’t get sick. You might catch her with a raspy voice or the sniffles, but if you ask her if she’s coming down with something, she’ll laugh and say it’s nothing. Being sick was not part of her upbringing. You just don’t get sick on a dairy farm. Julie so doesn’t understand what it means to be sick or injured that sometimes I have to remind her to be sympathetic to her husband and children when they’re ailing.

Not surprisingly, this dairy girl harbors a deep love of cheese. I’ll never forget one of the first times we were out to dinner and Julie ordered a cheese plate for dessert. Why cheese, I wondered, when we had access to things like molten chocolate cake, peach pavlova with tarragon ice cream, and warm pecan-wild rice cake with de leche sauce? But this was way back in the dark ages before I was properly educated about the beauty of good cheese. Though I still might go for the warm wild rice cake.

cheese

I have made great strides in the world of cheese however. Generally you can find a handful of specialty cheeses nestled alongside the mozzarella and cheddar in my fridge. My cheese drawer is particularly well endowed at the moment. My friend Mary recently found her way to Fromagination in Madison and brought me back some true gems. I’m especially in love with a cheddar-blue duo. In the summers I practically live on Sassy Nanny’s fresh chev. Smeared on warm toast with honey for breakfast, paired with a tomato sandwich for lunch, and tossed in a grain salad for dinner. Those days can’t come soon enough.

I regularly get e-mails from Julie, but a few weeks ago one message arrived with an alluring subject. “Grilled Cheese.” There was a link inside to what Julie described as the “photo contest I’ve been waiting for all of my life.” Are you aware there is a National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day? No, me either. But there is, of course. In fact, it turns out that the entire month of April has been devoted to the grilled cheese sandwich. And to celebrate, Culture magazine held a photo contest.

I’m okay with Grilled Cheese Sandwich month. A grilled cheese is a perfect work at home lunch. I love dreaming up wild combinations. Cheddar with mango and jalepeños, baby swiss with kraut and russian dressing, blue cheese with tomato and honey, gouda with apple and touch of horseradish. I’m not fussy and nothing perks up a dull work day like a little lunch time experiment. My routine is to get the griddle heating up, open the fridge and pull out a handful of things that might work together. I’m rarely disappointed.

hot-brie

For my most recent sandwich trial I chose a creamy Grate Lakes Brie from the cheese drawer, julienned a few scallions, grilled it up on a light rye and topped it off with a hot mango chutney. In Julie’s honor, I dutifully got out the camera before gobbling it down. Hunger got the better of my creativity, but I sent in my submission to Culture anyway. Because I’d like nothing more than to win the big cheese prize and invite Julie over for dessert.

extra-time

If I ever have a midlife crisis, I’m pretty sure it is going to involve a ship. A big ship. Like an ocean bound salty. I used to think I might give up life as I know it to ride the rails, but lately I’m convinced that I’m really meant for the seas. I can read the Duluth Shipping News like a novel.

My  fantasy was rekindled last week when I got a voice message from a client. It was no big deal, really. He only needed to reschedule our morning meeting regarding the local community education foundation. This particular client also happens to be a Madeline Island Ferry Captain. And here’s where the trouble was. He was going to be tied up all morning. The USCG Alder, a 225 foot multi-mission buoy, would be arriving to cut a channel between Madeline Island and the mainland. This stop would nearly complete the Alder’s month long Great Lakes ice-breaking expedition.

USCG Alder

No problem on my end. I always revel in that liberating sensation of gaining “extra-time” when something gets cancelled – no matter how fleeting or false it may be. So I pour another cup of coffee and take a peek at boatnerd.com, a site that shows real time position of Great Lakes vessels. I see The Alder just entering the south channel.

I will myself back to work, but fifteen minute later, I’m clicking refresh to find the Alder rounding Grant’s Point. I’m still on extra-time, right? I close the laptop, grab my camera and head for the city dock.

Parking is at a premium. Evidentially I’m not alone in wanting to witness this passage into spring. I gather with what feels like about half of Bayfield’s male population to watch the show. The growl of the engines makes my heart leap. I squint to study the little figures on board, making up duties for them, imagining their ship-bound lives.

The majority of spectators depart after the Alder’s first pass, but I find  a seat on the sunny breakwall to wait for another round. Sure enough, as the Alder makes a second approach the ice resumes shifting and I can hear the fresh water sloshing beneath. I can’t see it, but it’s under there somewhere. That’s all the proof I need.

The dock has emptied out, but it’s still bustling. The currently icebound fishing tugs are on their way to being set free. I watch with envy as a handful of commercial fishermen ready their boats for 2013’s inaugural voyage.

eleanor-b

My mouth waters at the thought of Lake Trout and fresh Herring. I think of long summer days when we run into town for an afternoon ice cream, a jump in the lake, and a stop at the fish house for a fresh catch to throw on the grill.

Spring and Winter have been duking it out this April. It’s safe to say that Winter currently has the upper hand. Bayfield’s fishing boats only made it out of the Bay a couple of days before a new winter storm system blew in. But this snowy, windy, whiteout only serves to deepen my love of hot summer days. They’ll come, and when they do, you can bet I’ll be ready.

spring dinner

Grilled Lemony Lake Trout

1 whole trout, cleaned (or 2 fillets)
1 lemon, sliced

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt (or Penzy’s English Prime Rub)

Combine the butter, lemon pepper, shallots, parsley, and celery salt.

Lay 3-4 lemon slices on a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil that is 3-4 times the width of the fish. Place the fish on top of the lemons. Generously dot the cavity with herb butter and add 3-4 slices of lemon to the cavity and press the fish back together. Dot the top skin with butter. Make a tight foil packet. If working with fillets, make 2 separate packets. Place on a hot grill (about 400ºF) and grill for 20-25 minutes, turning once. Individual fillets will cook slightly quicker. (serves 2)

stormed-in


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