Notes on Grown-Up Camp and the End of Summer (more or less)

We have returned from just shy of a week at “The Inn” at “The Homestead,” which is up in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  Here’s a link to a Flickr set of pictures.  Some thoughts more or less as they occurred on the trip/occur in the photos:

  • We stayed at The Homestead, where Annette made a reservation back in May or June in a fit of “Argh! I need a vacation!” It is a huge property of condos, cottages, time-shares, private homes, and a couple small hotels which is part real estate scheme/part resort, a place where many things are named with a pretentious “The” (e.g., “The Homestead,” which includes a few shops and such in “The Village,” an area of rentals called “The Cottages,” and the small hotel where we stayed called “The Inn.”) I was sort of prepared to not like it because it’s too expensive and a lot of the reviews online are mixed at best.  But just about anyplace in this area of northern Michigan “in season” is too expensive, and since we wanted a comfy room with Internet access and close proximity to the beach (maybe 200 yards away from one of the best in Michigan) and a pool, this worked out great.  We had a room with a gas fireplace, a nice sitting area, plenty roomy, and it also included a great patio.  It was quirky though– for example, none of the doors quite opened or closed right.
  • This was designed to be a “vacation,” as opposed to a “trip” like the one we took to California and Oregon in June.  Will was away at Camp Lookout just down the road, so the idea was to mostly do nothing– sleeping in, hanging around the beach and the pool and the patio, reading, going out for nice dinners and drinking cocktails.  You know, camp for grown-ups.
  • We did go on a hike that was about seven miles long one day along the Bay View trail.  It was quite nice because it was beautiful views and because it gave us a chance to try out our new picnic/wine backpack (we bought at “the store” or whatever it was called at The Homestead– a good deal, too).  But that was the hottest day up there, so not necessarily the best timed trip.
  • That night we met with a friend from our PhD program who teaches up at Northwestern Michigan College, John, and his wife and all-around groovy person, Karen.  We also ended up out there with John’s parents, who were visiting, and some local-yokel friends of theirs too.  Low-key up-north fun:  sit around, drink a little wine or beer, light a fire, and wait for the stars to come out.  And we saw lots of stars, including the Milky Way pretty clearly.  It’s nights like that which make me think that the ancient’s belief that the sky was a roof high above the earth was logical under the circumstances.
  • But there was work on this trip.  For starters, I was (and am!) still teaching two classes online and Annette, despite her best efforts, just couldn’t stay completely away.  We had ethernet connectivity in the room, but no wifi (note to self:  next time I go on an extended trip like this, bring one of my Airport Express modems).  But there was wifi in the lobby area, which was probably better because we pretty much had the place to ourselves, room to spread out, and a tremendous view.  Older vacationers would look at us scornfully and mumble how we were “wasting” such a pleasant time.  Younger vacationers asked questions about how they too could get good wifi in this place.
  • We had a couple of hours of “drama” on Thursday when I thought I had lost my keys to the car, the only set of keys we had.  We turned the room upside down, looked through every stitch of clothing, walked on the beach and searched under chairs by the pool.  I had called a lock guy with the theory that I could get to a valet key in the glove box, though we were dreading that key not being there and having to get towed to Traverse City and spending lots of time and hundreds of dollars to get back on the road.  And then I picked up a bluetooth keyboard that was on the desk area, a keyboard that I am certain that both Annette and I had moved in the course of the last two hours, and there they were.  We both gasped as if I had just pulled off the greatest magic trick of the century.
  • We ate well on this trip:  two times at a place at The Homestead called Nonna’s, mainly because it was close, very good, and reasonably priced for this quality of food.  And then the last night we went to a place in Glen Arbor called Blu that was really really good, certainly as good as any really good restaurant I’ve been to just about anywhere.  Don’t tell Will, but that even includes Bouchon.
  • We picked up Will on Friday a little early, and then made a stop at Cherry Republic for him (and us too) before getting back on the road.

And then as soon as I got back to town and was running errands, I sensed the end of summer.  The grocery store had fall plants for sale out front.  A pile of end of the term grading awaits.  Fall term will start soon….

Canning/Pickling Experiment, Part 1

I’m not entirely sure what inspired this, but I got an itch recently to try to do some canning and/or pickling.  It’s one of those cooking/foodie things I’ve been interested in for a while now, and when we were in Iowa about a month ago, my mom gave me her old canning pot– the giant pot and rack you use to boil the jars to preserve them.  And about two weeks ago, I bought both a book on canning and a book on building an “earth oven.” (That’s right, folks– a pizza oven is still a possibility. Stay tuned for details).

So, following a very basic pickling recipe, I tried my hand at a few pickled vegetables. From left to right:

  • Green beans (which I really like pickled a lot, and we have an abundance of them around here and/or from the CSA share from Tantré Farms).
  • Carrots (this was kind of a last-minute thing– I had an extra jar and some extra brine, so I figured what the hell?  I also added onion and a hot pepper to this mix).
  • Green peppers (Annette’s request, based on a recipe from her grandmother).
  • Cucumbers (you know, “pickles”).
  • Beets (I have high hopes for this one because we have gotten a lot of beets from the farm this year).
  • Green peppers and onions (I think…).

Now, I have no idea if any of this is going to turn out and/or if it is not going to kill us when we try to eat it.  That’s why this is “part 1” of the pickling post.   I’m pretty optimistic, and it was surprisingly easy to do, but I am still up in the air about the extent to which it is “worth it.”  It seems to me that if you’ve got a lot of something that is going to go bad otherwise (beets, for example), then it might be worth it.  We’ll see in a couple weeks.

Ashland 2010

We are at the main destination/reason for our westward trip, Ashland, Oregon, the town where Will was born in 1997 and where I took my first tenure-track job in 1996. We were only here two years, frankly because my job at Southern Oregon University was bad and also because Annette’s job prospects at SOU and in the area were poor. I’m leaving a lot of details out of that last sentence, details I’m not going to dwell on for mostly obvious reasons. Let’s just say that if we had stayed here, I’m pretty sure neither one of us would have stayed in academia.

Anyway, I’m happy to visit now as a tenured and content professor at EMU, one who happens to be married to someone who was just granted tenure, and I’m happy that we are sharing our trip down memory lane with our 12 year old son who left this town where he was born before he was one. Here’s a link to a bunch of flickr pictures of the area (including Crater Lake) so far; more details after the jump.
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Napa, 2010

We’re about to conclude the first leg of our trip out west, the Napa Valley part of things. Here’s a link to the Flickr set of photos and one video; Annette also uploaded a bunch of stuff to Facebook, but I’ll worry about getting those pictures downloaded and uploaded to Flickr when I get home.

A couple of quick thoughts before Ashland:

The idea of this trip, more or less, was to cash in our frequent flyer miles (meaning the flights cost us about $40 or so) and to take a trip to see where Will was born and where Annette and I started our post-PhD program lives, Ashland, Oregon. But first, Napa.

Our flight into Sacramento was uneventful, but we didn’t get to the hotel/motel until almost 1 am west coast time or 4 am east coast time, so our first day in Napa was pretty quiet, actually. We stopped in downtown Napa for lunch– good food, but not much reason to stop there tourism-wise. Drove past wineries, stopped at Bouchon Bakery for lovely pastries and coffee, and then got to our hotel, a Best Western in Calistoga, CA. Great place, actually– lovely little town, nice hotel, reasonably priced, etc.

Tuesday night we went to Bouchon, which is a Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville. I would have preferred going to Ad Hoc (because I have a cookbook from there), but it was closed both Tuesday and Wednesday. And The French Laundry, well, that would have been a little out of our budget. Bouchon was great, and surprisingly accessible and not crazy expensive. We have spent as much or more in a couple of different restaurants in Ann Arbor, and this was much better. Will had a great mussels dish, Annette had a bib lettuce salad that she thought was the best ever (and some good lobster bisque), and I pigged out over some deliciously fatty pork shoulder.

And then Wednesday, we got up and really had tourism proper. Napa Valley is a little tricky with a 12 year-old; as Annette put it, it’s sort of like how adults feel about a place like Chuck E. Cheese: sure, there’s stuff adults can do there, but the place is really made for kids. So is the case with wine country. As a result, we ended up keeping it pretty simple and mostly kid-friendly. We went to the California petrified forest and the “Old Faithful” of California; both were pretty much tourist-traps, but kinda fun. We went to the Sterling winery, which has the kid-friendly attraction of a gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery itself– that was pretty cool, and the views from that place were spectacular.

But the real surprise and hit of the day was Castello Di Amorosa, which is basically this pet/vanity project of a guy who has been active in the Napa Valley wine world for a long long time. Check out the link and the pictures to see what I mean; but basically, I would say it was an all-around hit for our group. I thought it was going to be super cheesy, but actually, it was a really well-done castle reproduction, and as some of the picture suggest, it looks quite a bit like quite a few things in Italy. We had a great guy serving us up too much wine in the tasting room, and it was pretty good wine, too.

We didn’t get to see a lot more than that, unfortunately, but what we saw was lovely. Oh, almost forgot– we did get a chance to go into the the west coast branch of the the Culinary Institute of America, which has about the best kitchen tool/toy/porn store I’ve ever been in. I ended up buying a couple of great looking CIA cookbooks, which are not the kind of thing you can typically get at a Borders or something.

And now on to Ashland. I’m finishing this post now from here, and I am sure I’ll photos to upload in a few days.

Krause’s #CCCC10 Recap

As I have discussed in the past, my recent record at getting stuff in at the Conference for College Composition and Communication has been bad.  But I was in this year and had a grand time.  I saw some good talks, got to connect with a lot of old friends and EMU students, played with Twitter and listened to talk about more tech stuff than I have typically at the CCCCs, and I had a lot of tourist fun in Louisville.

I shot some video which I am hoping to put together in the next week or so to show my MA students, many of whom don’t know about what goes on at academic conferences. Here’s a link to some pictures; and after the jump are probably more details than you want to know.

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I’m not even sure I like chicken this much

I stumbled across this the other day:  from a blog I probably should follow Cheap Healthy Good, “1 Chicken, 17 Healthy Meals, $26 Bucks, No Mayo.” Basically, the challenge was to make a one big chicken last a couple for the bulk of a week’s worth of meals.

I think these are good tips and they sound like pretty good meals, too.  But given that the Mrs. is not that crazy about chicken and I pretty much don’t like eating the same thing two days in a row ever, I doubt I’ll do this exactly.  Still, I like the idea of making something that can be remade into several different things, I like the recipe ideas, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t just freeze the stripped chicken meat and spread these meals out with a mix of things between just chicken.

BTW, as one of the commentators pointed out, not making stock from the left-over carcass is in itself a waste.  But that’s perhaps another food-oriented post.

Note to self: cookie recipes (including pepper nuts)

It’s the season for making Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts again, and the first thing I did to recall the recipe was search my blog. I was surprised that I hadn’t included it here, to my current blog, so here it is:

Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts

1 cup dark karo syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup butter, softened (or margarine or crisco or, in the old days, lard)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp anise oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
7 cups (or so) flour

1.In your trusty KitchenAid standing mixer mix together the syrup, molasses, butter, sugar and hot water until well combined. If you lack a standing mixer, you can do this with a large bowl and a hand mixer.

2. Add everything else but the flour and continue mixing until combined.

3. Start adding the flour, about a cup at a time, mixing each time until the flour is well incorporated. If you have a trusty KitchenAid standing mixer, lucky you! You can keep mixing this until all seven cups of flour are combined. I shifted from the regular mixing paddle to the bread hook attachment after the fifth cup of flour.

If you don’t have a standing mixer (unlucky you!), you’ll probably have to give up on the hand mixer after the fourth or fifth cup of flour and knead the rest of the flour in as you might with the making of bread or pizza dough.

Either way, you may have to add a little more or a little less flour to get a dough that is moist but not sticky.

4. Take about a handful of the finished dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface in long snakes that are about the width of your pinky. Lay these out on a cookie sheet. You can create different layers of the dough snakes by separating them with parchment paper or plastic sheeting.

5. Chill these dough snakes. Grandma Krause’s recipe said to chill “overnight or for at least a couple of hours.” I have done this before by putting them in the freezer or outside (which is as cold as the freezer, of course) for an hour or so, though in the movie, I left them out overnight with no adverse effect. They do need to be chilled and even a bit dried out.

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees. (It kind of depends on your oven, but while Grandma Krause said 350, I think 375 is probably more accurate). Take each snake and cut them into tiny bite-sized pieces of dough. Put the little dough pieces onto a cookie sheet, being sure to spread them out so they don’t touch either. The cookies will expand slightly in size.

7. Bake about 9 or 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool them on a clean counter or a clean cookie sheet and store them in a sealed container. Serve them in little bowls as if they were nuts. Makes a pailful.

And here’s a link to last year’s post about baking cookies, which includes recipes to chocolate kisses cookies and rolo and pretzel “cookies.”

I dunno, perhaps in the new year I’ll start a recipe category….

Because more than one person asked: Squash Ravioli

This is based closely on a recipe for pumpkin tortellini from the cookbook The Silver Spoon, which is sort of The Joy of Cooking of Italy:  it’s one of those books that’s been around forever and it has recipes for everything.  I mean everything: this book has a section of recipes for cooking Ostrich.  Well worth the purchase.  This is a double recipe; I figure if you’re going to go through the trouble of making these, you might as well make plenty.

Filling:

  • About 8 cups or so of squash (roughly speaking, this is about two small to medium-sized butternut squash), peeled, seeded, and cut up into chunks
  • 3 to 5 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • two or three cups of bread crumbs
  • about a half teaspoon or so of grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:

  • 3 and a 1/2 cups of flour, with extra for dusting
  • 4 or 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • a pinch of salt

Cook the squash (butternut, pumpkin, something like that) on some cookie sheets in a 350 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until tender.   Cool, and then pass it through either a food mill or a ricer (I use a ricer; I would think a food processor would be a bad idea as it would turn this mixture into something too gummy).  Mix all the other filling stuff in with it.  The mix should be fairly dry, so if it’s still mushy, add more bread crumbs.

There’s a lot of ways to make fresh pasta, but I tend to use the classic “well method.”  Pour the flour out onto a clean surface and make a well in the middle of the pile.  Beat up the eggs– four if they are large eggs and it’s kind of damp outside, otherwise five– and pour them into the well.  Use a fork and begin incorporating the egg with the flour.  When it is all mixed in, start kneading it.  This will seem to be a hopeless process at first, but if you put some weight into it and a little time, you’ll eventually get a nice ball of a stiff dough.  Put this in a ziplock bag and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.

Get out your pasta maker, roll it out, and make ravioli.   Did I mention you need a pasta roller to do this? Yep, pretty much.  If you don’t have one and/or you want to skip the whole rig-a-ma-roll of making your own pasta sheets, I suppose you could buy some pre-made pasta sheets or some won-ton wrappers.  I’d also recommend doing this as a group activity.  Making ravioli is the sort of thing that works well as small group entertainment, either with a child and his friend visiting for a sleep-over or for some sort of dinner party.  There are lots of ways to make ravioli; the most common method I see in cookbooks is to roll the dough out, put small mounds (about a half tablespoon at most) of stuffing in regular intervals on the sheet, fold it over, press the edges firmly, and cut it into little squares.  We have this press thing which will make a dozen nicely sized ravioli at a time.

As you make them, lay the ravioli out on a cookie sheet, separating layers of pasta with wax paper or plastic wrap.  Put the ravioli in the freezer until harden, and then “bag ’em and tag ’em.”  They’ll keep for months, and this recipe is enough for at least a dozen servings.

How to serve?  Well, they cook up fast:  five minutes or less fresh, about seven or eight minutes frozen.  When they float to the top of a large pot of boiling water, they are done.

The best and classic sauce is with browned butter and fresh sage– just melt half a stick of butter, add some fresh chopped sage, and when the ravioli are done, scoop them out of the water and toss them around a bit in the butter.

Also nice and not near as rich and fatty:  finely dice some vegetables like onion, carrot, and celery, and sweat them for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil.  Add about 2 cups chicken broth, and reduce the mixture to about a cup or less.  Pour this over cooked ravioli.  Or add more chicken stock and other soup stuff and keep the whole thing a soup.  Add the ravioli right to the broth about 10 minutes before serving.

The Food (W)hole dilemma (the health care edition)

Whole Foods C.E.O. John Mackey had an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day where he argued for a rather conservative/anti-Obama/anti-public option take on health care reform.  Mark Maynard wrote about it, there’s a piece in the Huffington Post that goes in great detail refuting Mackey, and Mackey tries to dig himself out on his own blog.

On the one hand, I tend to agree with the critiques of Mackey’s WSJ piece, though to be somewhat fair, Mackey does have some good points on his blog. It was the Journal’s idea to characterize Mackey’s article as a critique against “Obamacare,” and they apparently cut out most of the stuff that Mackey had originally included about the importance of emphasizing good nutrition and wellness.  But it is pretty easy to read Mackey’s piece as the rantings of self-interested CEO trying to minimize his labor costs in order to maximize profits for share holders.  Which, of course, he is.

This is hardly the first kinda creepy thing I’ve noticed about the Food (W)Hole.  In January 2008, there was a local story I blogged about here about a fish guy who was fired from Whole Foods under somewhat dubious circumstances.  Whole Foods has notoriously resisted efforts at unionization.  And other stuff, as this site notes.

But on the other hand, I really like Whole Foods.  They have excellent products and service, and if you know what to shop for or what’s worth spending the extra money on, I honestly don’t even think it’s that bad of a deal.  And I have to say if I boycotted every store that had some kind of political stance that didn’t line up perfectly with mine or that was run by a douchebag CEO, I’d have to revert to a hunter-gather lifestyle.

So I’ll keep shopping there and indulging my yuppie/foodie self.  But I am once again reminded this isn’t Whole Foods Co-Op but Whole Foods, Inc.