about bliss

Friday, July 27, 2007

my favorite things about Michigan, a fond farewell

photo from wikipedia, taken by Lars Lentz, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

1. my family and friends
2. the beaches of Lake Michigan, with long slopes of sand and rolling dunes
3. foodie destinations: zingermans, trattoria stella, journeyman cafe, uncommon grounds, captain sundae, schuler books and music, simply wine, foods for living, Okemos farmer's market, Holland farmer's market
4. memories of the 26 years I lived in "the magical mitten"
5. two of my three alma maters, Alma College and Michigan State University...oh, and I suppose I should throw in my k-12 schooling at West Ottawa, places that all contributed to my eggheadedness:)

somehow a list seems incomplete, but if I think in full sentences this morning I'll focus more on the sadness of what I'm leaving than the exciting possibilities that await me in Wisconsin...

I'll catch up with you on the other side of the Lake...

Monday, July 23, 2007

last desserts

Friday's the big day: we load up the 16 foot Penske truck with all my worldly goods. There's much questioning about the size of the said truck: will it be large enough to hold all my boxes? I'll spend the night at my parents' home and then make the drive to WI on Saturday morning to unload with the help of my new colleagues/friends.

Yesterday I baked my last goodies in this kitchen that I've hated yet grown accustomed to, with its dark pressed wood cabinets and annoying refrigerator that insists on freezing my baby lettuces...

First I made a cute two layer six inch chocolate cake, which I'm just about to frost. I'm bringing it to Grandpa C, who loves sweets, but particularly chocolate cake. He's refinished a Hoosier cabinet for my new place and I promised to pay in chocolate cake.

Then I made an ultra rustic peach and blueberry galette, with Michigan peaches and my own family's blueberries (I have many stories about that to come). I had to dig my rolling pin out of the box it was already packed in, and attempt to maneuver it on the small counter space left free during the packing frenzy. The pastry crumbled and fell all apart, so I had to press it back together...It certainly wasn't the prettiest of galettes, but it was tasty.

My friend K came over to spend the night and we enjoyed the tart and tumblers full of wine (as I already packed my nice stemware). K and I are friends from college--we were the two highest officers in our--brace yourself--sorority (more on that another time:)--as well as editors on our college newspaper (she was editor-in-chief and I was Features). We caught up on college gossip and discussed the travails of young motherhood and single life, respectively. We're planning a visit for her family to come to WI and go to a Packers game (her husband is a HUGE sports fan)...we have to wait until Brett Favre retires to get tickets, but it will certainly be an adventure (especially for me, as I'm functionally football illiterate).

Saturday, July 21, 2007

759 pages, 6 hours

I spent my afternoon with Harry and the gang. Won't write anything else 'til I know it's safe to discuss...but I have some thoughts on the form that I'm itching to discuss:)

One vastly overlooked benefit of completing grueling PhD comprehensive exams (think 3 subject areas, 150+ works to read and be ready to write about and discuss with unerring intelligence and eloquence) is the ability to read. Smartly. Lightning speedily. I may no longer remember the publication dates and corresponding historical significance of Nathaniel Hawthorne's great works; the allusions and influences of each of Pound's cantos; or the nuanced differences between radical, liberal, first, second, and third wave feminisms; but I have retained my ability to read at all speeds.

claudio corallo, chocolate god

Photo by Medicaster. Cacao tree in Hawaii Botanical Gardens. Wikipedia

I first read about chocologist Claudio Corallo in Chloé Doutre-Roussel’s delightful book, *The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone with a Passion for Chocolate.* (note: I was fortunate to attend a chocolate tasting at Zingerman’s with Chloé, an event that transformed my relationship to chocolate). At the time of publication, Claudio Corallo’s chocolates were sold exclusively at Fortnum & Mason (where Doutré-Roussel is the chocolate buyer--what a job, no?), not available to chocophiles worldwide. Now, these amazing chocolates are available and...

But first, a bit of background on Corallo. According to Doutre-Roussel, Corallo was the creative force behind the plantation lines for Pralus, my previous number one chocolate. Corallo’s family’s small plantation in Sao Tomé e Principé is the site of their chocolate production, and Corallo is dedicated to keep chocolate plain, eschewing some of processing we’re used to in order to create chocolates that taste, well, like chocolate...

Last time I was at Zingerman’s I spied a new addition--a row of Corallo chocolates, but was unable to taste and buy at the time. This week I made my farewell visit to my favorite gourmety foodie mecca in Michigan, and decided it was time to purchase and to taste. I came home with a 75% bar--well, actually, when I opened the vacuum sealed packet (intriguing in its simplicity--silver vacuum pack with a white tag with limited info about the treat inside), I giddily discovered three bars. I snapped off a bite...well, as snappy as it could be given the less than ideal chocolate storing conditions here in my home...smelled its complex, warm wonder; and popped it in my mouth.

I nearly cried. Complex yet simple. Primitive. Wild. Rich, with a much less refined and creamy texture of most other chocolates, the flavor seeped into my whole being, and suddenly, poor Pralus was demoted to the number two spot. And I love the juxtaposition of the clean, modern lines of the packaging, and the old and otherwordly simplicity of the chocolate inside.

Monday, July 16, 2007

up north adventures: sassy scrams and tiny bubbles

artwork from wikipedia, 1915 English magazine illustration of a lady riding a champagne cork
From The Lordprice Collection, copyright license found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Two years ago H, S, and I discovered the delicious foods at Kejara's Bridge, a little cafe smack dab in the middle of the Leelanau Peninsula. I still remember sitting out in the garden, dodging bees, and feeling more than a little windswept, as we ate our fresh, clean flavored breakfasts. H and I ate there twice this visit, talking about our dreams of buying the place (it's for sale)...a real dream since other lives and other jobs beckon, not to mention a serious lack of capital. But it's fun to imagine the possibilities of a different life.

The most delicious item on the menu, in my mind, is the Sassy Scram (which also happens to have the best name). Three eggs are scrambled with spinach, red and green pepper, red onion, tomato, feta, and white cheddar. Served with whole grain toast and fresh fruit, the concoction makes a lovely breakfast or lunch. I've made similar dishes at home on a random Tuesday when I don't feel like "really cooking," but somehow Kejara's is a bit more delicious, which I suspect has something to do with their much more liberal use of cheese.

The ambience veers towards the boho-hippy, with local art for sale on the walls, an eclectic range of vintage tables, and folksy music. We were lucky enough to listen to Bob Dylan (well, I was. H isn't a big fan of Dylan, but she softened towards his vocal stylings by the end of our lunch). There's something about Dylan's rambling narratives that comforts on days--like this one was--when all I could think about was the melancholy of leaving and moving on to new chapters.

On our last visit, H and I had the pleasure of serendipitously running into an old friend from college who's doing really important and great work.

As my time on the Peninsula drew to a close, H and I had one more destination in mind: the vineyards of Larry Mawby. As I've mentioned before, vineyards dot the land in this region. What distinguishes Mawby is that all his wines are sparkling. He uses the traditional methode champenoise, and his wines are effervescent and lovely. The tasting room rollicks with music that can only be described as *sexy fun*--selections like "Let's Get It On," "Lady Marmalade," and "You Sexy Thing." Between the tiny bubbles and the fun music, H and I were dancing in our chairs, reading all the poetic text on the walls describing the various wines. I bought a half-bottle of Talismon, an estate wine named one of the top 100 wines in the US, and Sandpiper, available only at the vineyard. H bought a bottle of Fizz, a demi-sec sparkler, and Sex, a wine rife with jokes. Add my new purchases to the bottle of Conservancy I bought when I visited last fall, and I'm ready for celebration!

up north adventures: the tao of lake michigan

Last Tuesday morning, I repacked my car and left my parents' home for a mini-break in Northport, Michigan with one of my best friends and her family (minus her husband, who had to return "downstate" to work). I decided to take the scenic route, following 31 up through the coastal towns of Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington, and Manistee, before angling over to the peninsula around Benzonia...the drive lulled me into calm joy interrupted with existential quadries about the sheer beauty of the land unfurling outside my car windows. Not being on a strict timetable, I stopped with every whim...for coffee in Manistee, for dried cherries in Glen Arbor, and more coffee and bread in Leland before arriving at the M's home.

The Leelanau Peninsula beckons with rolling dunes, verdant farmland, sumptuous Lake Michigan shores, and a smattering of small communities, each offering a new vista, a delicious eatery or two, and an individual ambience. I love this place. Why? I've been fortunate enough to spend a handful of days there every summer for the past 13 years, as the M's have graciously opened their home to H and her group of giggly, silly, rambunctious friends. Now we're not so rambunctious as we were at the beginning, but we're still giggly and silly, eating chocolate and talking about our dreams. We've grown up--some of us have husbands, some have babies, and some have drifted away. But the place remains, changing a bit with each year as a new winery pops up, or we discover a new favorite place to spread our silliness. This solitary visit didn't supplant the whole group visit, but was a chance for me to temporarily shake off the moving stress.

The Peninsula, and particularly the M's home, has always been my wonder spot, that place where nature's beauty soothes the stressful edges of everyday life, and the constant crash of waves in the background reminds me of the paradox of constant change/non-change.

On Thursday morning, I took a yoga class at the Leelanau Center for Contemplative Arts--yin yoga, which is deeply restorative--and the teacher concluded with a passage from the Tao te Ching, a text I used to read fairly regularly, the lessons of which are especially apropos now. Tears stung my eyes as my relaxation merged with the reminder of something familiar and strengthening.

sad ibook

I'm back from my vacation and have a trillion stories to share, meals to chronicle, and gorgeous vistas to describe. But first, a sad note about my trusty, beloved ibook...I closed the lid quickly, forgetting that my ishuffle cap was resting on my laptop (in retrospect, a really stupid place to set it), and cracked the lcd display. A lovely arcing line of pink and purple frames the right side of my screen. On the bright side, they're my favorite colors...and they're not yet spread to the center of the screen so it's still functional. Here's the ridiculous news about repairing the damage--it costs at a minimum $850 to fix ( well, I did find some cheaper places online but remain skeptical about shipping my ibook off to strangers). Now, a new ibook is $999. Does this make sense? (I'm sure to apple it does, ugh). With all the moving expenses, and not to mention stress, this is just too much for me to deal with now...

I wish I didn't love my ibook so much. But it's not the thing itself as much as what it holds--all my writings, emails, a smattering of photos, and a connection to the wider world. Ahhh. A good Buddhist--and many other faiths and philosophies--would use this as a lesson of being overly attached to "things." I'm afraid I'm not in an overly religio-philosophical frame of mind:(

Monday, July 09, 2007

tea parties, pimento cheese, and ratatouille

photo from Wikipedia; license available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/

Balmy. Sticky. Luckily, also breezy. Welcome to summer in the Great Lake State! This morning I ran on the Lake Michigan shores, straight into a driving wind kicking up two foot rolling waves. Exhilarating! My "vacation/last weeks in Michigan" continues with a drive up the shore of Lake Michigan tomorrow to spend a few days visiting my friend H, her daughter, and her parents, in my favorite summertime haunt: the Leelanau Peninsula. I hope to bake a cherry tart for my hosts, and maybe make a dinner from farm fresh produce from the market stands that dot the rolling hills and lake vistas...

This weekend my Mom and I hosted a tea party on my parents' porch for my cousins, aunts, and grandma. The porch is perfect for parties, complete with a cedar swing, lots of chairs, and little tables. My grandma and aunt brought flowers from their gardens--lilies, daisies, and hydrangeas. Mom and I made lemon angel food cake cupcakes, cucumber sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, and a variety of fresh fruits. Grandma brought mini cheesecakes in adorable heart print cupcake papers. My favorite tea party treat, though, is pimento cheese.

Pimento cheese is one of those Southern foods I never actually ate until I moved back North. Go figure. My grandma (who was born and raised in the South), recalls their version of pimento cheese when she was young, which revolved around Velveeta cheese (also a staple for the ubiquitous Rotel dip that peppered grad school parties). My version of pimento cheese is a bit more gourmet-ey, which is the cause for some teasing, but everyone eats it up just the same.

Pimento Cheese:
Grate equal amounts of best extra sharp white and yellow cheddars (now I use Vermont and New York, respectively, but I suspect this will change once I move to the other side of ye ol' Lake), mash with a fork, add a squirt or two of mayonnaise (I use Hellman's Light), and a small jar of diced pimentos (drained). Add black pepper and cayenne pepper (powder or sauce) to taste. Mash it up real good, refrigerate (preferably overnight so the flavors meld), and serve with celery, bread, crackers, pretzels, crostini, anything, really. Drink a glass of sweet tea on the side.

Today I took two of my cousins to see *Ratatouille,* which has received rave reviews from other bloggers AND the NYT film critics. What a fun, thoughtful film! Such a delightful foodie movie, and I'm so glad I could share it with my cousins.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

happily ever after!

photo from wikipedia

Tonight I took a break from packing another round of boxes and drove to Stucchi's for frozen yogurt, with visions of Laura's French flower cones in mind (check out her blog at http://www.lauraflorand.com/blog/). Of course, my cone wasn't nearly as pretty, or probably as delicious as those farm fresh glaces, but YUMM. After tasting several varieties, I settled on toasted coconut--a vanilla base with chocolate covered toasted coconut. In an old school sugar cone. Ice cream is simply fun, and it's hard to be stressed or sad when you're enjoying the chilly treat. Especially when you're also watching a glorious sunset spread across the sky--big billowy cloud turned hot pink and orange against a deep blue backdrop.

I'm pleased to add some new visual details to my blog! Check out the neat library program at LibraryThing... My next step is figuring out how to add hyperlinks...I suspect this has something to do with my browser which I will switch when I have more time and a faster connection to download a new one, so please be patient with my old school links. Oh dear, I used "old school" twice already in this post!

Two exciting updates on the writing front: I wrote the HEA (happily ever after) for Sam and Lily today! This is monumental. Not because the novel's finished. (I wish! I've kinda been skipping around). No, it's huge because in the past I could never write the end. So to write a happy (albeit tearful) scene of reunion and potential bliss makes me feel like I've summitted some kind of mountain of my own (to follow through on Sam's mountain moment metaphor:)

And today I discovered that one of my scholarly articles is online! The article appears in *Searching the Soul of Ally McBeal,* published last fall and edited by the talented Elwood Watson. And now, someone has included my article on an online archive of sources about Bridget Jones (I look at Bridget and Ally together. And defend their search for LOVE. And defend their NEUROSES).

Monday, July 02, 2007

boxes, bob dylan, and bookaholicism

photo from wikipedia

This is the week I am forced to start packing. Seriously packing. 25 days 'til moving day. Since college, I have a history of not being completely packed when my dear family shows up to load cars, trucks, and trailers full of my belongings. Over the years, my possessions (mainly books and kitchen supplies) have multiplied, but my ability to be completely packed by moving day has not changed. I could recount many a tearful, stressful, and irritated scene, but will leave this to your imagination. I have vowed publicly that this time I'll be all packed. You know that song by Queen and David Bowie, featured in that film with the cute Josh Hartnett (whatever happened to him, BTW?), *40 Days and 40 Nights,* that's now feaured on various commercials where people are all stressed out, and the refrain is "under pressure"? That would be me.

During my post-prandial stroll (yet another packing stalling technique and sanity saver these stressful days), I listened to a little Bob Dylan, "Shelter from the Storm," which made me think of Sam on the mountain, and, more importantly, coming off of the mountain and finding Lily. "Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved. Everything up to that point had been left unresolved.Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm..." (Bob Dylan, "Shelter from the Storm")

After walking, I picked up the novel *The Baker's Apprentice,* to read just a chapter before filling the empty boxes awaiting my prized possessions. I realized, several chapters later, that books are my drug of choice. Not exactly an epiphany, but something about my current situation and all the real work I have to do throws my quasi-addiction in relief. "Put the book DOWN, Jessica, and just walk away," I muttered more than once. Does my ability to actually walk away save me? Are books an inherently dangerous addiction? You know how those 18th century folks worried about the influence of novels on impressionable young women...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

mojitos and men on mountaintops

photo of the Keyhole on Longs Peak, from wikipedia, taken by J. Benjamin Wildeboer

In some circles, I'm known as Martha, after Martha Stewart, for my cooking craft, and in other circles I'm known for making a mean mojito. One relative-of-a-relative actually calls me Mojito Martha. Last night I made the first mojitos of the summer with some gorgeous, fragrant mint from the farmer's market...this time I actually went to the little trouble of making a mint syrup, but you can just as easily muddle the mint and sugar in the bottom of a glass. Add a shot of golden rum, juice of one lime, ice cubes, and top off with club soda for a refreshing, painless drink. Painless until you realize you've downed two of them and these days one drink is enough to provoke tipsy laughter and true confessions. Have another drink and who knows what might happen...

So I've placed Sam, my RN hero, on a mountaintop. Cliche? Perhaps. But I realized I needed something BIG to provoke his romantic "come to Jesus" moment. Losing his job didn't do the trick, neither had moving back to his hometown. I drew on my own experience climbing Longs Peak, a "fourteener" in Rocky Mountain NP, for Sam's big moment.

Long's Peak can be climbed non-technically--that is, without ropes, harnesses, all of the trappings of "real" rock climbing. In 2001, I spent about six weeks working at Shadowcliff lodge in Grand Lake, CO, and planned a climb with my co-workers. In typical dharmagirl fashion, I read everything I could about the climb, and prepared physically and mentally. The books made the climb sound challenging but not difficult (if that contradiction even makes sense). In reality, the climb was grueling, a 14 hour event that saw several missteps, including losing my footing on a particularly steep portion of the climb, just yards away from the summit. Thank goodness for my friend N, the British bloke who pushed me back up and kept me from sliding into a rocky abyss. This climb was transformative--a testament to my resilience in the face of challenges, and a certain tenacity that isn't always apparent when I feel muddled with insecurity and uncertainty.

So what better experience to give to Sam, who needs something larger than life, larger than himself to propel him back to Lily? I have him stop his climb at the Keyhole, a definitive moment that all the guidebooks say is where most people who fail to summit turn around, as the immensity of the mountain becomes apparent. You have to step through a keyhole shaped opening in the rock to a narrow ledge on the other side to wind up closer to the summit. And this is all at 6.2 miles into the 8 mile hike to the summit...turning around when you're that close takes a certain emotional truth that I want Sam to realize and to redirect.