about bliss

Thursday, July 31, 2008

food, friends, fellowship, and road trips

I love this time of year, when everyone is eager to soak up the sun when it's at the hottest, when gardens and farms are overflowing with fresh, local produce, and when summer school is over and before the hectic pace of fall semester is upon us. I have a whole list of blog entries in my head, begging to be written (along with a series of super short stories I want to play with), and in the coming weeks of freedom I shall.

Last night I enjoyed a delightful meal with my friends H and J. We reminisced about our great adventure in the Apostle Islands, shared photos, and ate delicious farm fresh foods: chocolate zucchini bread, toasted rolls, pan fried eggplant, cucumber salad, bibb and spinach salad with feta and olives, and the best beets I've ever tasted, roasted with maple syrup and spices (that said, I'm still not a beet fan, but these were tasty). We drank riesling and coffee and finished the evening al fresco, swatting mosquitoes and eating angel food cake with berries and whipped cream. My friends have a warm, welcoming home--they've put a lot of work into refinishing an old farmhouse, and it's gorgeous.

I've been packing my car: yoga mat, camping gear, fun reads, school reads, clothes for any occasion, shoes for any occasion, road snacks, my bike on my new Yakima bike rack, gifts, road trip CD's...

Tomorrow I'm heading out on my epic road trip (well, epic may be hyperbolic, but anyone who knows me well knows that I tend towards hyperbole when given the chance). I'll drive to the WI/MI border, where I'll stay at A and R's farm and share more food, fellowship, and friendship, before venturing across the wilds of DA YOO-P, EH. I'll follow the curves of Lake Michigan, cross the Mackinaw Bridge by myself for the very first time, and then continue my arc around the shore, through northern towns Petosky, Traverse City, before hitting the Peninsula and feeling like I'm back at my summer home, leaving M-22 behind and finding my way to the M's home on curvy, hilly back roads dotted with orchards and farm stands and wineries and all those quotidian pleasures that make my soul sigh and relax.

My journey will continue later in the week, as I follow the Lake through Manistee, Ludington, Grand Haven, and finally, pull in to my parents' long driveway where bright geraniums and Mom and Dad will greet me.

Ah, summer, Lake Michigan, friends, family, food, fiction, fun. HOME.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

remembering berry bliss

Here's a photo of the delicious strawberry cream cake I made in June. If you missed the entry describing this marvel, you can read it here. Ahh, for one more slice of that luscious cake...I wonder if I can recreate it using raspberries, which are now in season.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

paddling inward

"To sit on an island, then, is not a way of disconnecting ourselves but, rather, a way we can understand relatedness," Gretel Ehrlich, "Islands"

Months ago I signed up for a five day kayaking adventure in the Apostle Islands, a National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. When I signed up, I didn't know the others who would be joining me on this adventure--a group of students and colleagues--very well. New to Wisconsin, I had heard that the Apostles were stunning, secluded, and stuffed with wildlife--especially bears. Between relatively unknown tripmates and potential wildlife encounters, I had much to fear.

I had little kayaking experience, but a good bit of adventure experience, backpacking the Appalachian Trail and summiting Longs Peak. I missed my adventurous streak--something elemental to my survival, which had wilted as I became a creature of habit, of worries, of virtual and indoor worlds.

siskiwit lake

Out on Siskiwit Lake, seated in a bright red kayak, my heart skipped a beat as I prepared to tip myself over and execute the requisite wet exit that would be used in emergencies. tuck, tap, pull, and push, I chanted, as I flipped the boat and flailed out of the cockpit and bobbed to the surface, anxious but accomplished. do something everyday that scares you, said Elenor Roosevelt.

rafting up on Lake Superior

As we took to Lake Superior the next day, I found my balance as I wiggled in my seat, and tested out various paddle strokes and leans. We paddled to the mainland sea caves, huge outcroppings of sandstone that have been etched and carved by wind and wave. Angling my boat between towering sandstone cliffs, I worried about darkness, enclosure, and waited for the panic response to kick in. As my eyes traveled up the crack between the rocks, I saw white birch, abundant foliage, and azure sky above, contrasted to massive rock on each side, and gently undulating water below. My eyes filled with tears at the hushed holiness of the sublime space where beauty and fear mingle.

mainland sea caves

Cave after cave offered new vistas, striations of rock, ledges with hungry baby birds with wide open mouths, and green moss. The deep hollow thunk of water meeting rock intensified as the weather shift and the wind stirred up more, bigger waves. It was time to return.

Sleepy from heavy paddling, I laced up my dry shoes and headed out for a hike to lost falls, a play of dense foliage, falling stream, and slick rock that reminded me of twelve mile creek, on the outskirts on Great Smoky National Park, my favorite moment from the last real foray on the AT in 2004.

Sleep came swiftly and soundly that night, and the next morning we packed up for our three mile water crossing. We stopped in the quaint town of Cornucopia for lattes and fresh blueberry scones before heading to the launch point. Butterflies kept me company as I stole peeks at Sand Island in the distance--with so much cold, deep water in between where we were and where we needed to be. As we packed out boats with gear for two days on the Island, the waves grew and the wind shifted, and our paddle would take a bit more effort. In an hour and a half we reached the sandy beach of our campsite, and we set up camp.

A group of us set out for the Sand Island Lighthouse, where we played on slabs of sandstone and watched deer stalk the privy.

J, J, and H play on the rocks

After dinner we shared revelations around the campfire, until we were called away by a dramatic red moon rising over the distant horizon.

We ventured our in boats the morning to see the island sea caves, and played a game of chicken--tossing floppy rubber chickens at one another on our paddles. A lazy afternoon of beach yoga and gymnastics helped stretch my tight muscles and relax me for the six mile round trip paddle to York Island. The lake was gentle until we rounded the tip of the island and faced reflective waves. After an intense twenty minutes of strong paddling, we landed on a shore of coarse sand. We slurped large wedges of watermelon and noshed on ubiquitous granola bars before heading back into the western sun.

I was determined to catch one sunrise and so crawled out of my tent the last moment to absorb the changing colors and dramatic cloud formations of a sunrise to the East and an inexplicable rainbow to the West. Everyone was quiet and reflective as we tore down camp, shimmied into our wetsuits and spray skirts, and slid into our cockpits for the last time. Tranquil, glassy waters that reflected the puffy clouds accompanied us back to the mainland. I tried to stretch the moment as long as possible, but with each paddle stroke moments became memories and the island faded into the distance.

We cleaned, unpacked, and lingered over good-byes, knowing that this particular group would not be together again. The strong camaraderie, lighthearted teasing, in-jokes, pirate songs, shared moments were becoming a memory as well.

As we sat together one last time to share our moments from the trip, all I could think was how strong and alive and whole I felt. After a year of great challenges, I had shrunk to a tiny, scared version of myself, hovering indoors and afraid of life. The ever-changing Lake, the steadiness of rock carved by wind and wave, the power to propel and right myself with my upper body alone, filled me with a remembrance of strength, of perspective, of a natural rightness, and a renewed awareness of the constant impermanence of life.

I can soar like an eagle, undulate like a wave, arc like sandstone shaped by water, be pristine, remote, and at once accessible to those willing to make the arduous journey inward.

dharmagirl, ready for adventure

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Today was one of those days--rare but becoming more common as the slower pace of summer allows--when I do feel connected to this place where I've lived for not quite a year.

My neighbor/friend B and I headed to the town just North of here to investigate their farmer's market, and to drink some tasty java and nosh delicious scones at S--my favorite local coffee shop. To back up, yesterday I rode my bike all the way to the S--(about 5.5 miles one way) only to discover that it was closed! Egads! My visions of scones and hot coffee after a long hot/cold ride (hot sun, cold lake breeze). But, M was there and we had a nice chat before I biked back. Well, today the owner of the S--wanted to make it up to me so he gave me some beans for home.

Then, we went to the farmer's market in our town, which was Krazy (tangent...I really dislike cutesy spellings like that) because of a big sidewalk sale fiesta. I talked to some of my favorite vendors and artists, ran into a few colleagues, and had an overall great time selecting my goodies for the week to come: spinach, lettuces, cherries (from my Michigan!), mozzarella balls. Add this to the broccoli I purchased at the strawberry farm yesterday and the peas from M's booth at the other market and I'm set for a week of good eating.

I then "helped" a new colleague move--more like visiting with said new colleague and spouse plus my colleague/friends because the truck was already unpacked!

After a delicious farmer's market lunch of roasted organic yukon gold's (from the Holland, MI market last week) with rosemary (chez dharmagirl); mixed lettuces with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper; omelet with spinach, garlic, peppers (supermarket, I confess), chives and parsley (from B's portion of our shared garden space) AND mozzarella...I headed back downtown to investigate the sale.

The library book sale was winding down, so a bag of books cost $1 and a box $3. I bought a few faves to add to a raffle basket I'm putting together for a campus fundraiser, and then a stack of harlequins, some relatively recent and some from the early 90s. The latter are fascinating for their covers, which feature women in big shoulder-pad suit jackets. Hmmm.

I stopped by my favorite cafe for a big coffee and chatted with the owner, stopped by the Natural Foods store for some yummy greek yogurt, and then found some treasures at an Artique shop--full of vintage goodies and artistic creations. I bought a few gifts for my friend S's bday, and an adorable lamp for myself. I chatted with the owner, and then made my way home to deal with all these strawberries...

So, as much as I may rail against this town and this place where I now live, I am starting to make connections and starting, ever so slowly, to feel at home. The summer weather and the Lake, my Lake, my clearest connection to Michigan, helps ever-so-much.

And now, before I dig into one of those retro-romances, I'm off to eat chocolate strawberry shortcake, the perfect ending to a lovely day.

another berry post...

Yesterday I bought a flat of berries, containing approximately 10 lbs. of crimson gems. I felt blessed and wealthier than I have in a long time, driving away from the farm with a huge cardboard container of berries.

I've been using Russ Parson's recipe from How to Eat a Peach, and since several people have asked me about this recipe, I'll take the time to give you more details of the process than I did in my previous jam entry. First, you slice the berries into bite sized chunks. Then you place them in a big pan with half as much sugar (i.e. 8 cups of berries and 4 cups of sugar). Add some lemon or orange juice, which will help the berries maintain their ruby red hue. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook just until the juices are clear--this means the sugar has dissolved. Let the mixture sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

On the second day, I fill my stock pot with water; place 4-5 half-pint jars, lids, and bands around the bottom; and boil for 5 minutes to sterilize the jars. At the same time, I start cooking small batches of jam. I boil 3-4 ladle-fuls of berries/juice at a time until the mixture is thick. You can tell when it's ready when the foamy bubbles start simmering down into a thick molten mix. I then transfer the hot jam into a big bowl and start over with another batch.

When your jars are sterilized and your jam is ready, fill the jars, leaving a scant 1/4 inch of head room, and then place the lids and bands on firmly. Lower the jars back into the water and boil for 10 minutes. Lift the jars out--I use a handy pair of tongs--and set on the counter to cool. If all has gone well, you'll hear little pings as the lids seal. What a lovely sounds!

What I love about making jam is the quiet and fragrant rhythm, the stirring and bubbling and boiling. I feel a deep sense of joy in the pleasures yet to come, as I wrote in my last jam entry.

I have another pot full of sliced berries in sugar ready for the final transformation for tomorrow...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

big ship, stormy night

rain. lightning. the sky cracking open in shades of violet, aubergine, and then back to sightless black. the woman with slightly matted fuzzy hair reading a magazine, her mother placidly working sudoku puzzles for hours. a small band of neo-hippies, fresh from rothbury, playing "banana pancakes" on acoustic travel guitars. the rhythmic shuffling of a deck of cards, the scrape of a plastic chair on faux-wood plank decks. rain dripping down the window panes in endless tears. the lingering scent of a half-smoked cigarette from the sole hippie chick in the bunch, who loudly claims innocence and proffers apologies when told this is a non-smoking section of the boat. twin indentations on my inner wrists from the sea bands pressing, pressing out the motion sickness that would otherwise wash over me in undulating waves. outside, the walkways filling with water. trying to keep gordon lightfoot's masterpiece "the wreck of the edmund fitzgerald" out of my mind. sticky from damp, humid air, wanting a hot shower, steaming tea, and an enormous hug before succumbing to sleep tonight, at home, in my plush bed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

jam (and) bands

I just made jam! I mean, I've made jam before--the quick kind that you store in the fridge because you're going to eat it soon, slathered on biscuits or with some koeze's peanut butter in a delicious sandwich. But this time I CANNED the jam. I have visions of gleaming berry jewels stored on my shelf to carry me through a long winter, and today was the first step in realizing that vision.

Yesterday I drove to the berry farm and bought 2 quarts, sliced and sugared them, cooked for 5 minutes until the sugar dissolve, hit with a splash of orange juice, and then refrigerated overnight, a la Russ Parson's advice in How to Eat a Peach (a delectable and useful book in its own right). I was rather cursing myself for buying the berries and starting the project amidst a hectic and stressful week, but Parson was right--it's not that hard. Today I cooked the berries and juice in small batches on the stove as the jars sterilized, and then ladled the hot molten jam into the jars and plunked them in a water bath for 10 minutes. Simple. And all to the jammin' rhythms of the Dave Matthews Band.

I bought pint jars--in retrospect I would buy smaller jars because after this whole process I only have 2 pint jars. But oh, they are lovely, an opaque ruby-crimson that promises sweetness to come. I'm thinking of how much our ancestors lives were filled with labor to provide for the future--all the canning and preserving of foods available now that wouldn't be available later. They knew the heady power of delayed gratification, as well as the treasure of the taste of sweetness when the snow whirls outdoors. It was a necessity and now, in many ways, it is a luxury to have the chunk of time to devote to preserving our own foods. Does this not seem somehow skewed, slant, wrong?

I just heard the first ping...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

those summer days...

walks along lake michigan, the contrast of hot sun and cool breeze sending shivers across my skin...
afternoons on the deck, vintage tunes pouring out of the stereo inside, hot sun beaming down, a good read in hand...
laid back small classes, with time to ask those deep philosophical questions that make all our heads ache and explode...
dreams of adventures to come, new cities to explore, new tales to write, new people to meet...
cool summer showers, sending me indoors to practice Surya Namaskar (sun salutation)...
quiet moments to reflect, dream, analyze the past, present, and future...
travels to favorite places, to various "homes," with dear family and friends...
gloriously delicious and fresh foods to create creative experimental meals...
innovative experiments in daily living, trying to strike that ever-elusive balance...