I find that one of the hardest things to accept about winter is that I can’t go out to the garden and pick fresh herbs and vegetables. All summer long and well into the fall basil grows by the shed in a tossed-together herb garden. I’ve often stopped to pinch off a leaf just to enjoy the pungent aroma. When it comes to making sandwiches, I tend to be adventurous, but lunchmeat isn’t on my list of edible ingredients. It is too full of chemicals and preservatives to be healthy. The question is: what else is there to use? Enter my friend Karen. She introduced me to the delicious combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella. The mixture of flavors is a gourmet delight and makes a tasty sandwich.
Fresh basil is also wonderful in a tossed salad. I’m a lazy cook in the summer and salads often end up on the supper menu. Once the weather has warmed up, I take it for granted that I can walk across the lawn and pick the fresh basil leaves any time I choose.
Then the frost comes.
Recently, I looked out my kitchen window at white ground and gloomy skies. I decided to do a little winter gardening. I’d found some basil plants in the produce department at the grocery store, but they looked sad and about ready to die. I checked every plant, but didn’t feel that I could save any one of them. I was disappointed but decided to wait and see if there were any fresh plants the next week. Vola! Those plants looked healthier. I bought one – on a cold and windy day – placed it in the cup holder in my console and drove the twenty miles home with the heater on high.
When I set the basil plant on the kitchen counter, I remembered I hadn’t put a 5-gallon bucket of potting soil down in the basement last fall like I usually do. You just never know when you might need some nice warm dirt in the middle of winter! All of my potting soil was out in the shed, frozen solid. Then I recalled the cement planters that hold geraniums in front of the garage every year. I’d dragged them into the garage for the winter. That dirt might not be frozen. I went out to check.
Lo and behold, I was able to chip and scrape together enough soil to use. I trudged through the snow and got the empty pot I’d left on the deck then I brought the pot and the cold dirt into the kitchen and set them on the counter. I added a little water to the bone-dry dirt and left it and the clay pot to warm up for a couple of days. Meanwhile my new basil plant was enjoying the southern sun in front of the kitchen window.
On the third day I stirred up the dirt, broke up the hard clumps and removed the maple seeds, dead leaves and other debris. It felt so good to this gardener’s hands to be back in warm soil. The smell of the damp earth was like a whiff of spring. I scooped a couple inches of soil into the clay pot. Then I gently removed the basil plant from the plastic store container and placed it on the dirt. I poured more soil around the basil until it was even with the crown of the plant (where the stems come off the roots).
I drizzled some water all the way around and added a little more dirt where the soil had settled. I stood back and looked at my basil plant in its new home. It seemed happy and turned its leaves to face the sun.
I’m one of those people who need to get their workout in before breakfast and while I’m still in my PJs. Every third day of my exercise regime I do yoga. The stretching and slow movements are soothing and the concentration creates a Zen-like state, setting the demands of the upcoming day aside for thirty minutes or so. That was, until two months ago when I adopted a kitten named Lucy.
Lucy has decided that the yoga mat signals playtime. My outstretched arms, in the Second Warrior Position, are a challenge to how high she can jump. Laughing at her attempts makes it difficult to focus and keep the pose.
Heaven forbid that I stay in the Cobra for more than a few seconds. My open thighs and arched back provide an obstacle course as she runs over my lap, circles round and gallops between my arms and across the room ending under the furniture. Seeing her eyeing me from behind the skirt on the sofa is disconcerting. I never know when she is going to “attack”.
A Down Dog at the Chair involves a cat in my hair. I try to concentrate as I lightly push the palms of my hands into the chair seat while keeping my elbows locked and pushing back through my hips. Lucy takes this move as her cue to sit in the chair, with a paw on each side of my head, holding on tight.
The Tree position requires me to balance on one foot while the other foot is pressed against my calf. My arms are raised to represent the branches. Lucy like trees. She likes climbing trees. I end the pose holding up my pajama bottoms while trying to pluck her of the trunk of the tree – my leg!
I don’t have the heart to lock her in a different room while I exercise. How can I when she looks at me with that sweet face? To her we’re having a fun playtime. And she does keep me on my toes, so to speak. The day will come when she will be a grownup cat and she will no longer consider me one of her toys. In the meantime Lucy and I really enjoy doing yoga.
Sometimes I have to take a minute, look around and remember how lucky I am to live in Michigan. For one thing, there are no sharks in our in-land oceans. Earthquakes – on the rare occasion when there is one, are mild tremors at most. They elicit comments such as “What was that!” and ‘Wow, that was awesome! Did you feel that?” Also, Michigan is home to only one poisonous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen one.
Michigan’s cultural diversity ranges from the Detroit Opera House to museums, orchestras and various theaters on the one hand to back-trail hiking, threshers’ conventions and our own Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. The industrial center is in the southeast, Amish settlements can be found along the back roads of south central Michigan
Up North is a whole other world. When we Michiganders say we’re Going Up North it means any place north of Clare. The rest stop at the intersection of US 127 and US 10 is the gateway to adventures, sparkling waters, great food and summers of fun.
Michigan has the longest coastline (3,288 miles) of any state in the union except for Alaska. That translates into a lot of beaches, boating and fun. Our maritime history is rich in ship building, transporting ores from our mines and stories of the many shipwrecks that happened during the treacherous winter storms on lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.
I recently took a trip up to Traverse City, Mission Point and down the western coast to Manistee. Lighthouses and white sandy beaches are to be found near the small towns along the lake shore .
It has been more years that I want to admit since I’d been in the Traverse Bay area. The city has grown with the addition of micro-breweries and world-class restaurants with quaint little shops nestled among the new businesses.
A for sure stop was the General Store on the way up the Leelanau peninsula heading toward the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
The proprietor entertained the customers with old-time stories of ghosts and snowed-in winters as they chose between homemade sour cream donuts, old-time soft drinks and a vast variety of unique wares.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore is also a landmark not to be missed. It is so much more than a tourist attraction with its unique archaeological formations. The area stretches for 35 miles of coastline and the dunes sit 400 feet above glacial moraines as the expanse was once covered by glaciers. The area was designated as wilderness in 2014 and is truly a site to behold.
And of course the view of the straits while driving across the Mackinac Bridge is breathtaking. It is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere with a length of 26, 372 feet, connecting the lower and upper peninsulas. The inside lane – that is a see-through grate – will test your courage, especially on a windy day. It is a LONG WAY DOWN to the water and every few years a car would be blown over the side. Steps have been taken to increase the safety of drivers and there are times when the weather is such that crossing is not allowed.
Tonight, as I watched the setting sun turn the clouds pink and white against an azure sky, I thanked my lucky stars that I woke up today in this amazing state of Michigan.
Hugh Carnes gripped the padded leather of his steering wheel. Ripe fields of wheat, burnished red in the twilight, rushed by as his tires edged over the double yellow line.
He stared through the windshield, mind churning and thought of the things that declared his success: a large corner office with a private bathroom, leather seats in his Mercedes, an expensive house in an exclusive subdivision. But, it wasn’t enough. What had become of the life he’d dreamed of? Every time he made another ruthless business deal he lost a piece of himself and now there wasn’t anything left. The man he could have been, so many years ago, was gone.
Hugh turned up the car radio to block out his thoughts. A tree whipped by and then another. His foot pressed against the gas pedal and the tires searched for a grip on the pavement. He leaned forward and held the steering wheel steady. Its ridges were embedded in both palms when he slid into the next curve.
Hugh stood under the first of the evening stars watching the steam rise from the crumpled hood of his car. The front fender hugged the trunk of an oak tree that had been growing for a hundred years.
The silence was broken by a faint hum. A single headlight shimmered then disappeared behind a rise in the road. The sound of a motorcycle grew louder until tires skidded to a stop on loose gravel at the side of the road. The rider snapped down the kick stand with the heel of his boot and swung his long leg over the seat. He took off his gloves and laid them on the handlebars. The back of his black, leather jacket bore the name Spirit Riders emblazoned in white. A rawhide shoe lace held his gray hair tied at the base of his neck.
“Hey Buddy,” the man said as he slipped down the grassy embankment. “That’s quite a dent you’ve got there. You’re lucky to be alive.”
Hugh snorted and turned back to his car.
The rider held out his hand and said, “I’m here to help you. My name is Timothy, St. Timothy, actually.”
“St. Timothy, huh?” Hugh said, neglecting the man’s hand.
Timothy shrugged and turned to show Hugh the back of his jacket. “Club name,” he said.
“So you haven’t come to save my soul?”
“I think you need a tow truck first. There’s a Waffle House down the road. I’ll give you a lift. They have a pay phone. Your cell won‘t work out here.”
“I’ve been down this road a hundred times. There’s no Waffle House.”
Timothy turned and walked back up to the road. “Sure there is. You can call for help there. Are you coming with me?”
Hugh scrambled up the ditch and slipped on the damp grass. “I haven’t seen a motorcycle like this in years,” he said.
“It’s a Kawasaki, A7 Avenger, 350 cc’s.” Timothy lifted his leg over the seat. “Takes me anywhere I need to go.” He kicked the starter and the low rumble of the engine broke the silence of the night. Hugh swung his leg over the back of the bike and settled behind the old biker. He rested his hands on his thighs.
“Hang on to the handles on the saddlebags,” Timothy said over the noise of the motor. He twisted the accelerator and Hugh felt the engine’s vibration in his legs as they pulled out onto the road. The wind whipped past his ears and his heart raced as they leaned into the curves.
The yellow letters of the Waffle House sign glowed, suspended above the road. Bright fluorescent light spilled out of the diner’s windows, creating a shimmering island in the dark.
“I’ll order us some coffee while you call for a tow truck. The pay phone’s in the corner. There should be a phone book there too,” Timothy said as he sat in a booth. The orange vinyl seat was split. A piece of duct tape held the material together.
“A pay phone? It’s got to be the last one on the planet,” Hugh muttered. He pulled some change out of his pocket and went to make the call.
A waitress set two beige ceramic cups and a silver pitcher of cream on the table as Hugh walked back to the booth. He saw her wink at Timothy and pat his shoulder.
Hugh slid into the other side of the booth and tested the coffee. “This is good.”
“Best coffee around,” Timothy said.
Hugh flipped through the selection of songs for the jukebox. They were all oldies, real old oldies. He tried to slip a quarter in the slot but the coin was too large.
“You need a dime,” Timothy said.
“I didn’t know there was a juke box left that took dimes.” Hugh slipped the coin in the slot and punched F5. Paul Revere and the Raiders started to sing Just Like Me. “I remember dancing to this song on Saturday night at the armory. I met my wife at one of those dances. She was only seventeen.” He sighed and looked out the dark window.
“So what went wrong?” Timothy asked.
“I make my living forcing other people out of business and I do it well. I never made it to any of my son’s football games. Hell, I even missed his graduation. And it’s been so long since I held my wife and told her I loved her, she would push me away if I tried it now.”
Hugh set his coffee down and nodded his head toward the back of the diner. “Does that pinball machine work?”
“It sure does.”
“How about a game before the tow truck gets here?”
Timothy scored 100,000 points plus two free balls. When he was finished with his game, Hugh put in a quarter. “Now you get to watch a master. I used to spend hours playing.” He guided the shiny, silver balls with gentle nudges to the machine. He grew engrossed with the game as the score increased and the silver balls became fewer.
“Tilt? Come on.” Hugh slapped the side of the machine.
“Try it again,” Timothy said.
Hugh slipped another quarter in the slot. The balls ran down, lining up in a row. “I wish I could try my life again. I’d just like a chance to do it better,” he said. “Do you have a family?”
Timothy shook his head. “They wouldn’t fit into my life.”
“Don’t you get lonely? You can’t be a biker forever.”
“That’s just it. I can be a biker forever. Once in a while someone like you comes along and makes it possible. What if I could give you a second chance?”
“Ya right. I’m to believe you can give me that?” Hugh pulled the spring-loaded knob and sent a steel ball clanging through the game.
“Say you could do it over. What would you be willing to pay?”
“Name a price.”
“Not money. Would you give up your wife?”
“No, of course not.”
“How about part of your life?”
Hugh hesitated and leaned on the machine. “What do you mean?”
“Would you be willing to, say, give up ten years?”
“If I could do it over, sure it’d be worth it.” Hugh turned back to his game. “So what do you get out of this if I agree?”
“I receive half of the years you give up.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Hugh said.
“You’d die at fifty-three instead of sixty-three.
“I’m sixty-three now. What makes you think I’m going to die?”
“You succeeded tonight. You died back there in the ditch,” Timothy said.
Hugh gripped the sides of the pinball machine. He hung his head and listened.
“You went through the wind shield and broke your back against the tree.”
Hugh lifted his head and looked at Timothy.
“I can give you another chance, if you agree to the price.”
“That’s the going rate.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“Walk out the door, you’ll figure out the rest.” Timothy said.
Hugh hurried across the diner and swung open the door. He stepped into the night. When he turned back the building was gone. He was standing on the side of the road, his legs encased in blue jeans with a pair of Converse sneakers on his feet. His hands were those of a young man and when he touched his face it felt lean and smooth, not the loose jowls he was used to.
A pair of headlights topped the crest of a hill and Hugh waved his arms over his head. A battered and rusted pickup pulled onto the gravel berm.
“Can you give me a lift into town?” Hugh asked.
“Sure, hop in.” A weather-beaten man in coveralls leaned across the seat and pushed open the passenger door. Hugh climbed into the cab.
“What’s a young feller like you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Heading home,” Hugh said.
I crashed my bicycle – OUCH! Actually, the bike was borrowed but the crashing was all mine. It was painful hitting that wooden boardwalk curb – why it is that those last seconds, when you know you’re going down, are always in slow-motion?
It’s been over two weeks ago and my bruises have changed to a delightful combination of green and magenta. The swelling has gone down but not completely away. My left wrist still hurts like the Dickens and wakes me up at night. It has been a learning experience.
My friend Tom has rheumatoid arthritis in his left wrist, the same one I injured. My accident has given me some insight into his daily life. I’ve come to realize how much I use my left hand and what a gift it was to take for granted that it was strong and worked like it should. And, while I’m getting more range-of-motion and flexibility every day and I know my wrist will heal eventually – his won’t.
It’s quite a challenge living alone with one good hand. Things need to be done: the dishes wait to be washed, the laundry piles up and the lawn keeps on growing; all interesting things to do with one hand. But, it is amazing, how a way to accomplish a task is always found. Thank goodness for dishwashers, personal-pace lawnmowers and power steering.
I did find out the hard way, in church Sunday that kneeling is still out of the question. I lowered the kneeling bench from under the pew in front of me and quickly discovered that the bruises on my knees couldn’t take the pressure. So I did the old-lady form of kneeling: sitting on the edge of my pew, with folded hands leaning on the back of the pew in front of me. Hopefully by next week I can truly kneel.
I also had to bow out of a Heritage Festival where I was going to be a vendor selling my cookbooks. My column runs in the local paper, so I was looking forward to meeting folks who read and enjoy The Recipe Exchange. There was no way I could erect my 10 x 10 foot shelter, set up my table and haul boxes of cookbooks. The woman in charge of the event was very kind when I called and even refunded my booth fee.
I was also scheduled to join the World Wide Kelby Photo Walk but I’ve found I can’t hold my DSLR camera yet. It’s amazing how a sprained wrist can interfere with FUN.
The day before the accident, I had started some touch-up painting and repair work in my office. It has remained untouched, tools and plastic still where I left them. Tomorrow I plan to pick up the paint brush and give it a try. Soon life will be back to normal. I can’t wait!
I woke up to the sound of a soft steady rain. A perfect day to play in the kitchen. I’d found an Emeril Lagasse recipe for Ratatouille that I wanted to make. It was chock full of vegetables – my favorite. I’d never cooked with eggplant before but any vegetable that pretty had to be delicious.
I love cooking with fresh produce and there is nothing like fresh vegetables straight from the garden. I very seldom use canned or frozen vegetables. This also means my cooking is geared to what is in season. Late summer is a bountiful time and the variety of vegetables to choose from is never ending.
The origin of my ingredients for the ratatouille was a story of its own. The eggplant, yellow squash and green pepper came from the farmer’s market. The zucchini, basil and parsley were from my garden and the tomatoes and red bell peppers were dropped off by a friend who had grown them in his garden. He’d stopped by to pick up my lawnmower that had decided it didn’t want to start anymore. The vegetables were a nice surprise.
I did all of the slicing and cutting up early in the day when I’m most productive and at my best, except for the eggplant. It will brown like an apple when sliced and it was best to wait until cooking time. I knew if I waited to start cooking until late in the afternoon, I wouldn’t make the effort and would end up with something quick and easy but much less delicious for supper.
The recipe called for the vegetables to be diced, but I like bigger pieces and “chunked” them instead. I also didn’t have any fresh thyme so I decreased the amount to ¼ teaspoon and used dried. I eye-balled the amount of parsley and basil. As you can see, I am not an exacting kind of cook.
I decided to serve the ratatouille over a bed of angel hair pasta and added a few cooked shrimp. After a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, dinner was ready.
Here is the recipe I used:
Emeril Lagasse’s Ratatouille (with adaptations)
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups diced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups diced eggplant with skin on. One eggplant made 2 cups for me
¼ teaspoon dried thyme or ½ teaspoon fresh
1 cup chunked green pepper
1 cup chunked red bell pepper
1 cup chunked zucchini squash, unpeeled
1 c chunked yellow squash, unpeeled
1 ½ cups chunked tomato
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
DIRECTIONS: Pour olive oil into a 12 inch skillet. I used a 10 inch and it was really full by the time all of the vegetables were added. I think a wok would work well, too. When the oil is hot, sauté onions and garlic until onions are wilted and turning transparent, about 6 minutes. I love the smell of onions and garlic cooking. It tells of delicious things to come. Next, add the eggplant and thyme, cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add green and red peppers, zucchini and yellow squash. Cook for 5 more minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the vegetables look tender but not cooked to mush. Serve as is for a side dish or serve over pasta or rice, with a few cooked shrimp and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese for a main entree.
How many times have you gone to an event and something else ended up being the gem of the day? That happened to me during my trip to Bay City to see the Tall Ships. While the old vessels were impressive, what knocked my socks off was a presentation/documentary later that evening at the State Theatre.
STORM WARNING by Ric Mixter and Dan Hall was captivating with its original score, vintage footage, interviews and video of dives to some of the historic shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. It also told of the days when Bay City was a major ship building area that continued until the close of the Defoe Shipbuilding Company in December of 1976. Many of the sunken ships were built in Bay City or the boats that came to the rescue of their crews were built there.
The shipping industry began on the Great Lakes in the seventeenth century with the French Canadians using the water to move boat loads of animal skins. Then in the nineteenth century shipping iron ore that was mined in the Upper Peninsula began. It was followed in the twentieth century by the shipping of limestone that was mined in northern lower Michigan. Shipping is still an important industry today. Needless to say, the documentary was over way too soon.
I find that living in south-central Michigan, it is easy for me to become disconnected from my water-based heritage. Even though I’m surrounded by small lakes – I believe the local lore says that if you live in Michigan you are no more than six miles from a body of water – I need to visit one of the Great Lakes from time to time and experience their wide open waters. It reminds me that an important part of my Michigan heritage and the lives of Michiganders today are based on the vast freshwater seas that surround us.
Also that weekend, I was given the chance to visit the Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse. It is owned by Dow Chemical which is collaborating with the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society to preserve the lighthouse. Access is limited to special events, such as the Tall Ships and visitors must be accompanied by members of the Historical Society with representatives from Dow Chemical on site.
And, of course the chief attraction of the trip was the Tall Ships. I was able to get down to the dock early in the morning of the first day, before the crowds of visitors filled up the park and the walkway. Standing next to the Spanish Galleon was both awe inspiring and humbling. The crews that manned these wind driven vessels were courageous and daring; true pioneers of shipping on the Great Lakes.
The Tall Ships will also be stopping in Chicago from July 27th through the 31st, Green Bay, Wisconsin from August 5th through the 7th and Duluth, Minnesota from August 18th through the 21st.
There’s nothing like spending a morning at the landfill. I was skeptical, to say the least, when I heard of plans for a nature hike.
Gary Siegrist, Naturalist/Stewardship Coordinator, at the Dahlem Conservancy, was to be our guide. My vision of wildflowers growing in the garbage couldn’t have been more wrong.
Come to find out, our hike was to take place on forty-four acres that the Liberty Landfill had set aside to mitigate two acres of wetlands and wet meadow that had been destroyed. The acreage is monitored by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). And the Dahlem Conservancy is under contract to write annual reports, conduct surveys, monitor activities and do restoration work which includes controlling non-native invasive plants.
Here is a sampling of the astounding nature our group witnessed on this tract of land. The next time someone says “ Let’s go hang-out at the landfill” I’ll be right on board.
A special Thank You to Gary Siegrist for helping me with this information and making sure I got my facts straight.
Hanging clothes out to dry on a beautiful sunny day gives me a Zen-like peace. It is a ritual that I practice every year, once the warm days of spring arrive. Women (and sometimes men) have hung out the laundry as far back as when clothes were washed down by a stream and pounded with rocks to get out the dirt.
The smell and feel of sheets warmed by gentle breezes and bright sunlight is like nothing else. My mom hung her clothes out to dry until the last two years of her life, when she sold her home and move into an apartment. She was an environmentalist before it was politically correct and abhorred using energy to run a clothes dryer when the sunshine was abundant and free.
Not only is line-drying laundry one of the earliest uses of solar energy, it is ecologically sound and leaves no carbon footprint. The sun is also a natural disinfectant and the bleaching effect of its rays leave your whites, whiter without the use of chlorine. Air dried towels have a nice, rough texture that will give your skin an invigorating rub, exfoliating old dry skin without the use of creams and chemicals.
Drying your clothes outside in the fresh air is THE BEST in so many ways. I find my life slows down, even if for just a few minutes, when I’m hanging out the wet-wash. The breeze and sun gently touch me. I take a deep breath, smell the warm earth and listen to the birds calling to each other across my backyard. One of the finest moments is when I see Canada geese in their familiar V formation and hear their throaty honk high overhead.
A mile outside of the village are several Amish farms. It is a glimpse into a simpler world: buggies waiting by the back stoop, horses in the paddock and, of course, clothes on the line.
It is a shame that my grand-daughters’ generation won’t know the sun-sweet scent of line dried sheets or the rough touch of a towel. But, maybe they will remember the good old days when Grandma hung her clothes out to dry.