1300 miles on the car in 10 days. From Minneapolis to Chicago to Traverse City Michigan on the way up, with an overnight stay at Lucia’s on the way up and then straight through via Chicago on the way back, thirteen and a half hours in the car. About an hour in the car had a nice mixture of fragrance, B.O. and ripe melon, which only intensified as the hours passed.
We stayed in a mid-nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula courtesy of our friends Charlie and Barb. It’s a big house, still much the same as it was when it was built, with added conveniences like a fairly modern kitchen and indoor plumbing, it’s an incredibly charming place. In front is a stand of giant white pines and then the orchard, first cherries and closer to the lake, apples. And then there’s Lake Michigan and an incredible stretch of beach which we had to ourselves.
Any trip to the Traverse City area turns out to be all about food. Here’s a few highlights.
Ribs at the farmhouse, we improvised an amazing sauce from the braising liquid and some plum jam that had just been cooked up. Barb whipped up a couple of pies, cherry (what else, it is after all the cherry capitol of the world) and cherry raspberry.
Dr. Mary Clemens, my friend and client came out to the farmhouse and made us a great vegetarian meal, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and whole wheat pasta with fresh tomato soup. And Barb came through with another pie.
Dinner with David and Lucia at Blu in Glen Arbor. Amazing space, with floor to ceiling glass looking out over the lake, and on this night five foot waves rolling onto the shore. We had braised pork belly for an appetizer and I had the duck confit.
Lunch at Cook’s House, a tiny place in downtown Traverse City that seats twenty people at most. I had a ham sandwich with fig compote. Remember on my last trip I had the world’s greatest ham sandwich at Frenchie’s? This was the world’s greatest ham sandwich.
Then back to the other side of the Leelanau Peninsula to Burdickville (you won’t find it on the map) and La Becasse, a restaurant specializing in French country cuisine. Another amazing meal, we split a plate of amazing risotto and I had the rack of lamb, maybe the best I’ve ever had.
On our last day Reb and I drove out to Onema to visit the Tamarack Gallery a wonderful little gallery with an eclectic collection of work by artists all over the country.
Road Trip! Chicago>Traverse City>and a meandering route back to the Twin Cities.
I leave you with this little ditty:
We had a great weekend. Lucia and David drove up from Chicago and Quinn came home to celebrate Reb’s birthday. It was great to have the whole family together, even for such a short time.
Lucia and David had to leave in the early afternoon Sunday and we capped the weekend off by attending a performance of the bound for Broadway musical Scottsboro Boys. We went with Quinn and her BF Dave, Quinn had landed free tickets courtesy her server job at Level Five, one of the restaurants at the Guthrie.
When Quinn offered us the tickets, my first instinct was to not go. Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on the story of nine black teenagers who were arrested in Alabama in the thirtys, accused of gang raping two white women while riding a freight train from Chattanooga to Memphis. They were tried and sentenced to death but the Supreme Court overturned their convictions, and in spite of the fact that one of the women recanted, they were retried and convicted several more times. All but one of them was eventually released. But not until they spent years in jail. I didn’t see how a musical about the evils of southern justice would be that entertaining. The theme of social injustice in dramatic presentations always fills me with a level of anger that I find hard to take. I had to be dragged to see Schindler’s List and probably would have walked out if I hadn’t been in the middle of the row. The idea of making a light hearted musical out of something truly evil doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m glad I went. It wasn’t a light hearted musical. They take an outdated form, the minstrel show, and bend it into a cuttingly ironic social critique. Minstrel shows featured white men in black face playing stereotypical blacks for laughs. Here, in all but one case, the black minstrels play the white characters, representing southern justice and biting, black humor. They’ve taken a huge risk presenting this sad story in a comic form that our twenty-first century sensibilities would find appallingly offensive and turn it on it’s head to make a powerful statement. And immensely entertains us in the process. From the spare set, some chairs a few planks and some tambourines, the incredible timing of the choreography and the performances of the cast, you know you are witnessing something really special.
I’m so glad that they chose the Guthrie for their final tune-up before taking the show to Broadway. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit. Thanks Quinn.
Yesterday was the 147th anniversary of the murder of my great-great grandparents and their 3 year old daughter at the beginning of the Dakotah Conflict in 1863. Below is a blog post I wrote several years ago after Quinn and I made a pilgrimage to the Minnesota River Valley to look for the site of the massacre.
In March of 1862 my great-great grandparents, Johann and Kathryn Kochendofer with their five children, John, 11, Rose, my great grandmother, 9, Kate 7, Margaret 5 and Sarah 3, to a homestead located in Flora Township in the southwest corner of Renville county, Minnesota, just upstream and on the other side of the Minnesota River from Redwood Falls. The farm sat at the edge of the prairie, where it began sloping down to the river valley. It’s a beautiful spot for a farm, with fertile fields in front, and the backyard dropping off into a wooded hillside. They had spent the spring and early summer living in a tent while they broke the ground for farming and built a log house to shelter them for the winter.
Around noon on August 18th of that year, Johann and John had returned to the house from the fields for lunch, Kathryn was in the kitchen cooking and the girls were doing laundry when a group of Indians armed with rifles appeared. After a short conversation, one of the Indians took an axe that was leaning against the woodpile and threw it down the hill into the woods. Johann told John to get the axe and return it. As he stood speaking with the intruders, he had his hands on Rose’s shoulders as she stood in front of him. Suddenly one of the Indians shot him. Kathryn ran to the door of the house and was also shot. The girls ran into the house and hid under the beds but they heard John yelling for them to run for the woods. They all ran from the house except for little Sarah who would not come.
There is a steep ravine right behind where the cabin was. Itâ€™s easy to conceive of young children playing hide and seek in that dark wooded gulch to pass away the summer. The knowledge they gained would save their lives. As they ran into the woods, their dying father motioned to them to go to the Schwandt farm, there closest neighbor, below them in the valley. As the girls ran through the woods they were reunited with John and then started to make their way to the neighbors. When they cleared the woods and looked down, they saw that the Schwandt farm was also under attack and they witnessed the murders of the entire Schwandt family. A pregnant woman was cut open, the fetus pulled from her body and nailed to the barn door. What they didnâ€™t know was attacks like these were occurring up and down the valley. Itâ€™s estimated that as many as a thousand settlers were killed in the next few weeks.
John remembered that his father had told him that Fort Ridgley was downstream from them, but they werenâ€™t sure how far. But they decided that they had no choice other than trying to walk there. For the next several hours they made their way toward the fort, hiding in the tall prairie grass and stopping at stream beds to rest and drink. When the little girls were too tired to walk any farther, Rose and John carried them on their backs. Late that afternoon they joined several other settlers who where headed to the fort in ox carts. By nightfall they reached the fort, eighteen miles away, only to be told that they could not come through the barricades, for fear that the Indians would rush through with them. They spent the night hiding under the wagons and in the morning they were allowed to enter the fort.The fort was manned by 180 soldiers, with 250 civilians who had escaped the massacre. The fort was not in a good defensive position, sitting on high ground surrounded on three sides by ravines that allowed attackers to get unseen into rifle range. But it did have six artillery pieces, which were stationed on the four corners of the fort with the two lighter 12 pounders in the central parade ground to be moved quickly where they were most needed.On the 20th around noon they were attacked by a force of about four hundred Indians led by Little Crow, the commanding chief of the Indian forces. After a fierce battle they drove the attackers off. But little crow returned again two days later with 800 men. Out numbered four to one and facing wave after wave of Indians attacking from the ravine the soldiers fought for 6 hours using the canon to break the charge after charge. A final assault came at the Northwest corner of the fort, right were the biggest gun was waiting with a double load of canister shot. As the attackers came up from the ravine the big gun and both the twelves fired simultaneously ripping huge holes into the advancing line. At that point the fighting stopped and the Indians never returned to the fort. Casualties in the fort were three dead and thirteen wounded.
There are many stories to be told about the Dakota Conflict, stories of bravery, cowardice, brutality and sacrifice, on both sides. There were two other major battles, in New Ulm and at Birch Coulee. I havenâ€™t spoken of the events that led up to the conflict, the Indians were provoked by cruelty and broken promises, they were starving and feared that their families would not last through the coming winter. If you are interested in finding out more of about the Dakota Conflict, Over the Earth I Come by Duane Schultz is an excellent read and covers the events very thoroughly.
After Henry Sibley arrived at the fort with reinforcements, parties were sent out to bury the dead. Johann, Kathryn and little Sarah were buried in unmarked graves near the house. In 1891,the man who had taken over the homestead found them while digging a post hole, John, by then an adult returned to the farm and brought the bodies back to St. Paul were they are now buried. The children made there way to St. Paul and stayed with relatives. A year later they were returning from a visit to St. Louis when the steamboat they were on caught fire and sank. Rose ended up going to stay at the Keller farm near Ellsworth, Wisconsin. She took a shine to one of the Keller boys, Ted, and they were married. They moved to South St. Paul where they owned an orchard. Rose lived into her eighties, long enough for my brother and sister to know her. I come from tough stock.
As you may know, I’m working on a garden renovation. It’s a work in progress. My vision is of a fairly primitive look, old rocks and bricks and the proper amount of kitschy gee gaws around. I’ve found that rocks are fairly expensive. So I’ve been making an effort to find free rocks. Those of you with a rural background might be saying, “Rocks? Aren’t those what farmers dig out of their fields and deposit in piles on the roadside? You pay for rocks?” But I’ve found Â that in a more urban setting the free market has put a rather high price on rocks.
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny, cool day so I decided I’d start my day with an endorphin blast, I grabbed my trekking poles and set off for a brisk walk. As I wound my way through the neighborhood, I came upon a pile of rocks stacked up Â near the street at the side of a corner lot. At a passing glance it looked like mostly useless rubble with a few good rocks. I rounded the corner and saw the owner out front working in her yard and talking to a neighbor. Not wanting to interrupt, I poled past with a neighborly hello, she returned my greeting with a bit of a smirk, I suppose that, in my flat cap, cruising along with the aid of ski poles, she found me an amusing character.
I proceeded up the Boone Avenue hill to 36th Street and then headed East to the first left turn, several blocks down, that put me on a road that wound back down hill to meet up with Boone again. The route took me past the rock pile neighbor once again, she was still out in the yard working so I stopped to exchange pleasantries. After the usual talk about the endless work of home ownership, I popped the question, “Are you planning on doing anything with those rocks piled over there?” She answered, in a defensive tone, that they were going to get rid of them soon, she must have thought I was going to complain about the eyesore. This being Minnesota it wouldn’t actually be a complaint, but a passive aggressive sideways hint that they’d been sitting out there for a long time. I assuaged her fears, “Can I take some of them?”
“Sure, take them all.”
“Well I probably won’t take them all.” I had no use for the broken concrete and other rubble.
“Help yourself, you can take all of it.”
“Thanks, I probably won’t take all of them though.”
“Yah, go ahead and take whatever you want.”
So I went home, showered, had lunch, got some work done and then jumped in the car to pick up what I thought was a few rocks. When I backed up to the pile and examined it more closely I realized it was a treasure hoard. There were nice sized field stones, flat limestone steppers, and old bricks, all the perfect accessories for the eccentric old couple garden. Since I was thinking that there were only a few rocks to move, I hadn’t really come prepared to work, I was wearing loafers, no socks and clothing that I didn’t really want to get filthy. I piled the back of the car with as many rocks as I thought it could haul and headed home. I changed clothes, donned appropriate footwear, grabbed my wheelbarrow and, in four trips unloaded the rocks in the back of the garden.
As I was working on the first load I got the feeling I’d just fleeced the rubes. I’m sure that if they had advertised on Craig’s List with the stipulation that the purchaser would have to take the bad with the good, they could have had it hauled away for free, or even made a few bucks on it. I started to worry about her husband coming home and pitching a fit that she’d given all the good stuff away. I decided that if anything was said I’d tell them they could certainly have them back, but they’d have to come get them. I started imagining all sorts of scenarios in which my rocky windfall would evaporate. For all I knew I was dealing with an insanely jealous husband who would come home and beat me to death with a paver for playing in his rock bed. I remembered that she had mentioned that hubby was in the Naval Reserve, so I thought that I could build some rapport by wearing an old ARMY t-shirt I had. Not that I was ever in the Army, but I have relatives. I could almost say I come from a military family.
Mrs. Rock House came out to the pile as I was loading up my second trip. She was probably even more convinced that I was a goof ball, since I had exchanged my cap for my Panama hat. So here’s this skinny, sweaty old guy hefting rocks into his station wagon wearing a very practical, but not exactly fashionable hat. She still seemed perfectly happy to get rid of whatever I wanted to take. She asked if I was interested in bricks, “We’ve got tons of bricks in the garage.” It seems as if she and hubby were recently married and that he is a retired Navy lifer who’s never owned a home. She said she told him now that he owned a home there would be no more trips and vacations, just working on the house. I knew then that I had nothing to fear concerning him wanting to keep the rocks. I realized she was completely in charge, she’d found someone who was used to having a commanding officer and was more than willing to fill that role.
So I got free rocks, met a neighbor and got way more endorphins than I had bargained for at the start of my walk. Rebecca informed my that I had enough rocks now and I wouldn’t be going back to get the bricks in the garage.
…and more rocks.
Way back when I first discovered the internet, one of the first things I did was start playing online chess. I’d been thinking about learning the game and I figured that could most easily be accomplished online. I found a great site, Caissa.com that offered both live and “correspondence” games as we
ll as all kinds of teaching tools. I bought some books, studied a couple of openings. I liked to use Ruy Lopez as white and the Sicilian Defense as black. I learned them out to about three moves (and all the permutations) but that really didn’t matter because playing at the level I was, no one stuck to the book, so you had to improvise. Those two do usually end up with a slight position advantage, if you don’t hose them up.
So it’s what, fifteen years later? And I haven’t learned squat. I was getting pounded on Caissa, but I think that the self limiting nature of the demographic that signs Â up for online chess results in some bogus ratings. Bunch of nerds, if you know what I mean. There’s a lot of good players and as time wore on there weren’t many people around who weren’t rated way above me. Plus guys I beat early on were thumping me regularly. I got frustrated and gave it up. Continue reading Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Well, it’s been quite awhile since my last post. I could make all kinds of excuses for not keeping this up, but I’m not one for excuses. Except I’ve been really busy, and I’ve been working on editing and producing a blog for someone else, and I’ve had writers cramp and maybe I’ve been a little depressed and I’ve been working on my garden and, well you know, no excuses.
I’m not going to dwell on the past so I’m just going to touch on a few things that have been going on this summer and then move on. It’s not like nothing’s been happening, it’s been a great summer with a couple of trips to Chicago, one to Traverse City and another one planned for Labor Day.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’m working, with the help of the Quinn’s bf Dave and the neighbor boys, on a major garden expansion. I’ve added about 600 sq. ft. at the back of our yard. That’s 600 sq. ft. that I don’t have to mow.
Here’s a little gallery of some of the summers event.
It rained yesterday, so Rebecca and I decided to head to the local multiplex and see Robin Hood. It was a fine example of the swashbuckling kind, great battle scenes. I just finished reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which takes place in England about 75 years earlier, both i think did a good job of depicting the grittiness of Medieval life.
Some of you might notice that in the first scene when the boys raid the barn, Marion laments that they have no “seed corn.” Well, I was all over that, because I knew that there was no corn in Europe in 1199. what I didn’t know was “corn” in those days was a general term for any cereal crop, not just maize, which of course was a New World plant.
As promised, more about my road trip.
I don’t really consider myself a foodie. I love to cook and have a somewhat undeserved reputation as a good cook; I have so many friends that can cook circles around me. But consider my itinerary. First stop, Chicago, to visit my daughter who does graphic design work for Rick Bayless’s Fontera Foods, and is showing some foodie inclinations. Then up to Traverse City, Michigan to visit my clients, and dear friends, Barb Tholin and Charlie Wunsch who publish Edible Grande Traverse, a beautiful magazine about the local food scene and my new client and friend Dr. Mary Clifton,who is a guru of plant based nutrition and healthy eating habits. Then on the way home I stopped in East Lansing for Dinner with college pals and former roommates Jim and SB Anthony. SB (it’s Patricia, but I’ll always think of her as SB, her college nickname) is one of those who can cook circles around me. So I was anticipating some mighty fine eats.
My first culinary experience was great road food, enjoyed on the fly, a bag of cheetos and a coke. Sorry Mary. OK so I wasn’t off to a great start. I do love cheetos though. One of my goals for the trip was to cut southeast through the back roads of rural Wisconsin. What’s the use of owning a Mazda if you don’t drive some crooked roads now and again. Unfortunately I was on a southwest bearing for awhile, turning a seven hour drive into ten. You might ask what this has to do with food. When I realized I was going to be so late, I contacted Lucia to check out their plans. She wanted to take me to Mixteco Grill, but the kitchen was only open until 9 Â and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there. I estimated 8, but if you know Chicago traffic, you know you could be very wrong about any eta. Luck was with me, I hit their door at just about 8, we called ahead to the restaurant, put our names on the list and they assured us that if we got there by 9 they would serve us. We made it at about 8:45.
When we got there we were seated in the back dining room, which is decorated by large graphic paintings based on the art of Mexico’s ancient native cultures. The room was full of large groups who were having some very loud fun. We asked to be moved to the front, which has more of a diner feel to it, but was empty and quiet, more what we had in mind, since we don’t see each other too often and we wanted to catch up. I ordered lamb chops in molÃ©Â sauce, David, Lucia’s companion, had enchiladas molÃ© and Lucia had fish tacos. The molÃ© was the best I’ve had, the lamb was perfectly prepared. The fish tacos were topped with pickled vegetables and were also great as were the enchiladas. The service was prompt and friendly. It’s byob, a plus for Chicagoans that you don’t find in Minnesota.
Next stop, Traverse City, Michigan. Traverse City is a tourist town, a college town and an ag town. It proclaims itself to be the cherry capital of the world, and has a booming winery business. TC and the area around it might have the highest per capita population of gourmet chefs in the country.
First stop was dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin a restaurant, micro brewery and distillery that’s out on Old Mission Peninsula, that stretches north from Traverse City, dividing Grande Traverse Bay. I had a white bean and braised lamb stew that was excellent, well worth the distress that the beans were going to cause later. It was a pleasant evening of reconnecting with my friends Barb and Charlie. There was a lot of talk about the micro brew offerings, I believe that “hoppy” was thrown around a bit. I’m not well versed in my alcohol terminology anymore.
I stayed that night by myself in the turn of the century farmhouse that Charlie’s family owns, where his parents had lived in their retirement. The next morning I drove into town to meet Charlie at their house in town and told that we were going to lunch at Frenchie’s Famous, which lays claim to the world’s greatest pastrami sandwich. But first we had to wait for Jim to show up with a load of horse shit that was destined to go in Charlie’s garden. When Jim arrived with the shit, we hopped in my car and headed for Frenchie’s. Frenchie’s establishment seats about 10 people, behind the counter is a huge copper espresso machine. When we got there, Barb was there having a latte with a beautiful swirl pattern, the mark of an expert barista. Turn’s out the Frenchman was an expert sandwich maker as well, the pastrami did not disappoint. Served on a chibatta, it was piled high with great pastrami, melted cheese and two different sauces, one of which I believe was mango wasabi.
Dinner was at the farmhouse and my new friend and client Dr. Mary Clifton volunteered to cook us a vegan dinner. We had a salad of shredded beets and parsnips with pasta in an excellent pesto. Barb whipped up a rhubarb pie for desert. It was a pleasant evening, Dr. Mary has an eight year old daughter Anna and Charlie and Barb have an eight year old son, Ellis, both kids are adventurous eaters. A very pleasant evening.
The next evening we drove out to the Lelanau Peninsula (lower Michigan’s little finger) to Glen Arbor and Blu, the award winning restaurant of Chef Randy Chamberlain. Blu is an architecturally stunning space, high ceilings and all windows, looking out onto the lake. The food was amazing. We ordered pork belly, duck liver pate and a third appetizer that I don’t remember. I had the sirloin. Now you might ask why I would order something as pedestrian as steak at a fine restaurant, but it was served with a terrific sauce that made it an outstanding dish. Ellis ordered the duck. It was duck confit, and ate it with gusto.
Then next day it was lunch at Trattoria Stella with Dr. Mary. Stella is in the Village, a former mental institution turned swank development, where both Dr. Mary and Barb have their offices. Frankly the conversation with the doc was so intriguing that I can’t remember what I had to eat. But I’m sure it was good. I think I had lamb, again. You might be sensing a pattern developing. Yes, I like lamb.
I was planning to get an early start the next day, but Charlie and Barb twisted my arm to stay for lunch at Amical featuring French cuisine made from local farm goods. I had a pasta with braised lamb, tomato based sauce, with olives and wonderful cheese. I know, if I was really going to write about the food on my trip I should have taken notes. After lunch I called SB in East Lansing to let her know I wasn’t going to make it until late afternoon. She said that that worked and that she was planning dinner, and asked if I like lamb. “Of course,” I said.
From East Lansing I headed down to Chicago for a couple of days. Lucia and David and I tried to go to Du Champ at the end of their street on Damen, but it was packed so we just headed down Damen to take advantage of the plethora of small independent restaurants in their neighborhood. I love Chicago. We found a tiny Middle Eastern place where the food was excellent. The real culinary highlight of this stop was the Chicago style hot dog at Wriggly Field.
So that was my Food tour of Lake Michigan.
Barb and Charlie of Edible Grande Traverse
I’ll have the lamb, please.
I love Chicago
In order to get from Lucia’s apartment to the street one must navigate a narrow passage between a fence on one side and the house on the other. When I was packing up my car to leave last Tuesday, the cable guy had a ladder leaning against the house, working on a junction box of some kind. I had no choice but to walk under it. About six times. Now I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but I have to admit this gave me a very uneasy feeling, particularly since I was about to set off on a journey that would require me to navigate through the hell called Chicago traffic and then run the speed trap gauntlet of Wisconsin.
The trip was uneventful, so I thought I was off the hook. Flash forward to the weekend.
On Sunday Beck and I decided to get some yard work done. It started innocently enough, tearing out some of that nasty plastic edging that the earth rejects every spring, and pushing the rocks back so they won’t spill onto the neighbor’s lawn for awhile. We’ve been talking about taking the rotting timbers off the three raised beds in the backyard, expanding the garden to incorporate the two larger beds bringing in loads of dirt and grading the beds out to the new dirt level, a big project.
Step one was to take the timbers off. At first we were going to just remove them from the little bed, just to see how it would go, but since that bed won’t be part of the eventual expanded garden we decided to leave it and pull up the timbers from one of the larger gardens.
Step one was to take out the low wire fence that we put around them to keep the rabbits out (no longer need thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Fox). So I started ripping it out with a pry bar, one of those that has sharp claws on either side. The staples that held the fence to the timbers were popping out easily and I was working quickly when I took a good hard pull on the bar and it released a little too easily, sending the pry bar right into my knee. Bad luck.
The timbers came out fairly easily, our neighbor let us borrow his chain saw to cut them up into small chunks and we decided to avoid double handling and put them right into the car and head for the dump. We put down the back seats and threw a tarp down and filled the Mazda up. That’s when we found out that there was no dump open on Sundays and that the municipal dump wasn’t open on Tuesdays either. So now we had a car full of dirty, ant infested, smelly old rotting lumber. Bad luck.
We determined that there was a commercial dump site open on Monday so we closed up the car cleaned up, drove the log truck to dinner and exhausted, packed it in for the night.
We got up in the morning ready to head for the junk drop off. We jumped in the car and turned the key. Nothing. It turns out that we must have bumped the overhead light switch when we were loading the crap in the car, the battery was as dead as my neighbors in the cemetery. Bad luck.
Moral of the story: don’t tempt fate, don’t walk under ladders.