Montague MI

A Michigan Brigadoon

Scenic Drive, aptly named, hugs the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan, just north of the Muskegon State Park. Parking on the shoulder of the road, my wife–with daughter Analise in tow–spread a blanket on the white sands. They remained behind to catch up with an old friend while I hiked south to the dunes in Sunday clothes and (somewhat stiff) dress shoes. The collared shirt, socks, and leather shoes we left trail side for the ascent up the dune. The vista from the top was more than worth the ten minute climb through a hot and shifting earth studded with twigs. From those heights, a faint haziness obscures the horizon, giving the great lake a dream-like quality.

The dune climb was followed by an equally long swim in the vast waters being churned by the winds. Thoughts out there on the lake concerned just what was to be done if caught in an undertow. In hindsight those thoughts may have been well-founded: there was a red flag flying at the entrance to the State Park that day which, I’m sorry to say, didn’t register much of a warning in my conscience mind.

With life and limb intact, our family made its way north on Scenic Drive to the Whitehall and Montague area. We stopped briefly at the site of Michillinda Lodge where my wife and I spent our wedding night almost three years ago. An empty lot remains where the lodge once stood, having since burned to the ground in a “spectacular fire”. But fresh grass grows there now–a hopeful sign.

The winding road to White Hall and Montague skirts White Lake and boasts many stately country homes which have the antique charm of the early 1900s. At 3:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday, Montague is sleepy town of brick buildings, vintage shops, and art galleries. The promise of live jazz music at a local espresso and wine bar had brought us here, though the bar had closed a couple of hours prior to our arrival. Who, however, could be disappointed with the discovery of Brigadoon, albeit nearly uninhabited? What a spell was cast by this part of Michigan’s west coast, scarcely appearing on a map.

Lamb Burger (Denver)

The Lamb Burger and Partially Fulfilled Desires

There’s money in ground.

Those were Frank Reese’s parting words to me at the 2012 American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s annual convention in North Carolina. Hailed as the father of heritage meats, I was once skeptical of his advice; since then, I have become a believer. As immensely proud as I am of the quality of our steaks and roasts, no where is the difference between conventional and heritage meat more pronounced than in its ground. In fact, ground has become our best-selling item. I have a theory as to why this is the case, a theory collaborated by other butchers.

As the theory goes, meat flavor is concentrated in the tougher muscles, muscles too chewy to turn into steaks or chops. Those are the parts of an animal that are turned into ground for burgers (they are also well-suited for pot roasts, cooked “low and slow”, or for steaks prepared sous vide; these methods ensure tender meat with optimal flavor from what would otherwise be courser cuts).

As a delegate to the Slow Meats symposium in Denver last month, a chef and butcher attending the event raved about a lamb burger being served up near Denver’s Larimer Square (so good, in fact, he returned the next day for the same dish–something he never does). Until discovering heritage lamb, I was not much a fan of America’s most under-rated meat. But the lamb burger I had at Rioja Restaurant was arguably the best lunch I’ve had in a quarter century (that is to say, my whole life). Served on a house-made pizza bun with chipotle aioli and mozzarella cheese, it’s everything you might expect from a restaurant that houses a James Beard Foundation award-winning chef. That was the lamb burger I set out to re-create tonight with a shipment of Cheviot lamb, newly arrived from Dundonald Highlands.

Selecting a bun from Kingma’s Market that closely approximated Rioja’s bun, I made a chipotle mayonnaise and grilled up lamb burgers for a friend and myself. Applying the chipotle mayonnaise only to the first couple of bites, it was forgotten for the remainder of the burger (the inherit flavor beggared no such additions). My friend–a beefaphile never before having tried lamb meat–was superlative in his accolades, preferring its flavor to even that of beef. In the final analysis, the summer barbeque of lamb burgers left us wanting more though. No more was to be had. But, you know, there’s a sweet satisfaction in partially fulfilled desires.

signingdec

Beyond Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

When in the course of driving last month from Michigan to Colorado–and back again–it became necessary to find some means of passing the many hours on the open roads. David McCullough’s book 1776 proved to be a welcome companion. It’s a masterful retelling of arguably the most crucial year of the American Revolution. What one may not realize is just how close the Colonies came to losing the War of Independence (and on more than one occasion). The Declaration of Independence had a galvanizing effect on the United States, which–on July 4–was starring in the mouth of the British Navy, gathered in all its force in New York’s harbor. I was inspired to return to this, one of the founding documents of the United States this Independence Day. Few of us have a familiarity with the document beyond that famous line concerning “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. If you’re so inclined, here is a reading of that seminal document:

[hana_testimonial name=””]When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.[/hana_testimonial]

sleeping quarters

Neimer Camp

In the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, seven miles or more from the nearest utility pole, rests Neimer Camp, perched on a bluff overlooking a small, inland lake. The remote hunting camp is lit by gas lamps and heated by a wood stove on which all the meals are cooked. Running water comes from a reservoir which sits atop the roof of the main cabin. It was to this secluded retreat that my brother Andy–along with our cousins–twice had the privilege of visiting when, in the springtime of my Junior and Senior years of high school, our fathers pulled us out of school–our alma maters–and brought us for an extended weekend to this rustic, undomesticated hide-away.

My cousins, brother, and I spent our days fishing, building fires, and shooting bee bee guns at pop cans. It was there that I caught my first Pike, an almost pre-historic fish with sharp, jagged teeth; there, that we turned 12 and 10-gauage shotguns on clay pigeons. In the twilight of the day, we would strip down in the communal shower house to examine each other for any deer ticks, carriers of Lyme Disease, seeking to burrow into our flesh. In the evening hours, the older men enthralled us with stories–some humorous, some mythical.

Of all the gifts my father bestowed on me, I am most grateful this Father’s Day for Neimer Camp. It instilled in me a love for the outdoors, conservation, and authentic masculinity.

Polly

Four Teats, Two Sparrows, and One Cow

Our family took another step this week in healthy eating when we purchased a cow share, a move that gives us weekly access to raw–as opposed to pasteurized–milk. Cow sharing is the only way–in Michigan at least–to get your hands on this rarity. On Monday we picked up the first installment from our friends at Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, MI, but not before enjoying a delicious dinner of grilled barbeque chicken, raised on pasture just outside the front door of the farmhouse.

After dinner, we joined our hosts, the Belprezes (Dan, Whitney, and their daughter Cecilia), in the barn. There Polly, the heritage Guernsey cow, works twice a day to provide us (and our neighbors) with fresh, nutrient-dense milk. The Belprezes stressed the importance of following strict protocols when running a raw-milk operation. Immediately before milking, Polly’s utter is given a disinfecting bath and then rinsed with an iodine solution. Foreign objects like dust and dirt cannot find their way into the receptacle into which the milk is pumped, owing to the fact that the milk passes directly from each of Polly’s four teats–a phrase I never thought I’d “udder”–through a tube and into the closed, sterilized container. The raw milk is then cooled to 40 degrees within a specified amount of time.

This milking brought an end to Dan and Whitney’s farm day, and we retired to the living room for root beer floats (or “Brown Cows,” as we called them growing up). Whitney explained that raw milk is living food, filled with healthy bacteria and probiotics, integral to intestinal health. In this way, raw milk is like beer which, too, is alive with living things (yeast). As their strict sanitizing procedures reveal, however, sloppiness can lead to contamination which is why it “behooves” all farms involved in raw milk production to heed the same standards as those employed at Two Sparrows. The carelessness of even one farm would unfairly effect public perception of the entire industry.

One will notice that raw milk from Polly has a beautiful–but very faint–yellow hue. This is because the cow is raised on pasture. Perhaps this is why butter is yellow in color. One often notices a similar phenomena in the fat of grass-fed, grass-finished beef. Whitney also shared with us that in the conventional milk industry, milk is dyed white to create a uniform color, necessary since one gallon of milk, she said, may contain milk from as many as 1000 cows. The dye delivers a consistent, uniform appearance.

Because the Belprezes raise pastured beef, our conversation naturally drifted to the subject of cattle. Dan shared a story of how their neighbor, a farmer who raises corn, alighted on a most interesting discovery concerning GMOs. Last growing season, the farmer–who raises GMO corn–found it necessary to plant some non-GMO corn. Half the field sprouted the former variety, and half the latter. To his consternation, deer ate up about 25% or more of the GMO-free corn, leaving the other variant completely untouched. Having heard stories like this before, we marveled at the innate ability of animals to detect food sources that provide their bodies with the highest levels of nutrition before moving on to less desirable sources.

We pulled away from Two Sparrows after 10:00 P.M., light still lingering in the western sky–one of the marvels of a Michigan summer. In the ice chest, snug in the trunk of the car, the bottles of farm milk lightly bounced on the country roads and the voices of frogs swelled in the warm night air. As in the days when milk delivery was common, the glass bottles eventually made their way, under the cover of dark, to our neighbors’ back porches.

 

For those interested in a cow share at Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy, visit their “Cow Share Program” page under the FARM PRODUCTS drop-down menu on their homepage.

Two Sparrows is hosting, this Sunday, June 8, a farm tour at 2:00 P.M., where they will provide cookies and refreshments.

Of Mountains, Beauty, Affliction, and the Steak Dinner

“Jagged Mountain Reflection”, Todd Caudle

My family grew up with regular steak dinners on Sunday evenings. It all began on Sunday afternoons when I (and my siblings) would go with Dad to Duba’s Restaurant, completely empty on Sunday, the one day each week it was closed. He’d take the meat out of the cooling units to get it ready for a new week of dining when, on Monday afternoon, the restaurant’s doors would reopen to its patrons. While Dad made preparations in the kitchen, we kids would make our way to the bar area, fumble for the lights, and help ourselves to the “soda gun.” Ah, the soda gun: you are a puzzle to be solved with your cryptic letters, and you are cooler (in some ways) than a cap gun because of your ability to shoot carbonated candy (like Coke and Ginger Ale). But–be careful–by pressing the “Q” button, you’d get tonic water. Life is a severe–even bitter–teacher, but what other seven year old knew about quinine or could tell you that it is (or was) an ingredient in tonic water (and apparently used to treat malaria)? And so, after downing a Collins glass of soda (we call it “pop” in Michigan), we were ready to take command of the restaurant’s intercom system. High jinx ensued until Dad was ready to take us home, and we’d usually tote home steaks for Sunday dinner. Yes, for our family, a steak dinner was about as normal and routine as any other family’s chicken dinner. My rather ho hum attitude toward the steak dinner all changed for me in the summer of 2001 when I realized just what a steak dinner could be. Read more

Creating a Menu: Sinatra’s Way, or “It Was a Very Good Meal”

While teaching English at The Classical Academy in Colorado, the students in my class were required to write a research paper.  The topic: a historical figure of the 20th Century. Now, somewhere along the way I discovered the best way to teach was to model: do it right there in front of them, have them practice, and then turn them loose. And so I decided to write a research paper right there along with them. Now, I knew that whatever topic I chose had better grab me right in gut and be a subject that I couldn’t learn enough about. For me, that topic was Frank Sinatra. Read more

A Late Summer Honeymoon

Photograph by Sherman Chu, Used with Permission

Married in late August and celebrating the event at an outdoor reception reminiscence of Bilbo’s 111th Birthday Party (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), my bride and I had long-desired a Michigan Honeymoon.

There was first camping on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, at a site found after hiking along the ridge of a steep bluff amid the poplars and dune grass.

Our next stop would be a bed & breakfast in Leeland. And so we made our way from the Manistee National Forest up picturesque Highway 31 and then continued north on M-22 where, somewhere between Empire and Glen Arbor, a rustic roadside stand drew us in with its fresh blackberries, blueberries, and vegetables being sold out of a weather-worn wood shack. What really began to unlock my inspiration for a recipe was a fresh herb garden behind the stand. Read more