Just a few of my favorite things! I met up with my old college roommates and summer camp counselor friends in Grand Rapids Friday. It was the last weekend of ArtPrize 2011 filled with treats visually & gastronomically in good company. These desserts are from San Chez in downtown Grand Rapids, including Empanada de Chocolate (chocolate fudge filled pastry, dolce de leche ice cream, brandy caramel, raspberry sauce), Pastel de Queso de Cabra (vanilla goat cheese cheesecake with shortbread crust, lemon curd, blackberry caviar & pecan tuile), and Tarta de Chocolate al Whisky (whisky soaked cake, caramel pecan ice cream, brownie & white chocolate mousse), respectively. The dishroom didn’t have much work to do once we were finished.
Prior to this weekend, my knowledge of John Chapman was merely a caricature image of a barefoot Lincoln-looking man carrying a seed sack and wearing a tin pot for a hat. After traipsing around the festival named for him (eating fried and kettle-cooked things with the name petal attached to them and touching beads and bones and furs), I started to read Howard Means’ recent book about the folk hero. In it, he “explores how our national past gets mythologized and hired out.” From the book: “Johnny Appleseed, of course, does live on, but less as a whole person than as a barometer of the ever-shifting American ideal: by turns a pacifist, the White Noble Savage, a children’s book simpleton, a frontier bootlegger in the fanciful interpretation of Michael Pollan, patron saint of everything from cannabis to evangelical environmentalism and creation care–everything, that is, but the flesh-and-blood man he really was.” This folk hero was a real guy with a seemingly steady moral compass and passion for the literal and figurative sweetness in life. I wonder how he would navigate life on modern day Parnell Avenue as opposed to 19th century wilderness. Would he find it all a bit too cloying?
It’s probably not a surprise that one of my favorite parts of camping is eating food made over the fire. Pinot Basil Pasta and Pecan Pancakes with Fruit Compote were two such meals enjoyed this weekend at Van Buren State Park with a dear old friend of mine. We chopped goodness from her garden and began cooking the thickest and hardest veggies first in a bit of olive oil. Afterwhile we added the softer veggies to the skillet along with some basil and Pinot Grigio. Once the wine reduces, everything is ready to mix in with the pasta and be consumed! The pancake combo was another winner from Backpacker Magazine. These pancakes did not miss usual syrup. The woodsy cinnamon and smoky dark cherry was my favorite flavor combination, but since I cannot resist a toasted marshmallow at any given opportunity, I topped off my pancakes with one goldened from the embers. Corn syrup made it on the pancakes after all.
Biking through cornfields, blueberry farms and forests was a weekend highlight. The air seemed so clean and oftentimes smelled like Welch’s Grape Juice. We did about 15 miles on the bike, which is probably why I thought a pre-ride double coffee cinnamon roll from Julia’s and post-ride kettle chips and raspberry stout from Round Barn were acceptable. Other indulgent sustenance included a packable tasty Chicken Curry lunch recipe courtesy of Backpacker Magazine and fresh apple cider from Paul & Ethel’s Farm. I really should find myself a good used bike.
I was flattered when asked to bake a cake for my dear friend Mary’s 30th birthday back porch celebration. I asked for her top 5 ingredients, and she said, “lemon and raspberry would be on the list, possibly strawberry or coconut. Usually chocolate, but it’s so-oo hot that fruit is on the brain.” I found a hot pink raspberry cake recipe, then I was told about this lovely lemon yogurt cake recipe. Why not both? I added frozen raspberries to one of the layers of the undoubtedly light and fresh lemon cakes, and topped it with raspberry cream cheese frosting. The hot pink cake turned into mini-cupcakes with dark chocolate buttercream. The evening was filled with deliciousness (her husband makes homemade breads! and they made those nuts I can’t stop eating). The birthday girl was aglow.
A friend’s happenstance run-in with painter Brooke Pickett during a pit stop on Magazine Street led me to a gallery opening at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans last weekend. The paintings alone reminded me of Philip Guston’s work, so I wasn’t surprised when I read in Pickett’s interview that he was important to her as an artist. But as I walked into and around the gallery as the sun was setting, it was Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series compositions that came to mind; the light was changing the work on the wall even after it was finished. The way the light hit the windows into Diebenkorn’s studio largely informed his compositions (this video shows him sitting in his studio like it is a gallery). The image of my friend Jillian taking in her old schoolmate’s paintings is my humble photographic homage to Diebenkorn, because why can’t the gallery be a studio, too?
Did you think we only looked at things on Magazine Street? No way! Yummy food stops along the way included hey! Cafe, Slice Pizzeria, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt and Velvet Teacakery. It is unbelievable what fresh, house-made mozzarella can do for a pie. And what laughter, silliness, and sharing city-loving can do for the soul.
Who wants gumbo mail? Later this week I will get on a plane bound for the American Library Association’s annual conference in The Big Easy. There are 20 postcard stamps in my suitcase, and I can’t guarantee that your postcard will be as charming as this one I received from a sweet friend who spent some time in New Orleans six years ago… but get a hold of me with your postal address, and I will send you one during my first visit! I am not sure how much free time I will have, but I would also love recommendations for what shouldn’t be missed. My nephew is quite the mapmaker lately and made me this drawing last week when I told him where I was going. “TC means take care,” he said. Black tea and orange madeleines hit the spot this stormy morning before heading off to work.