Friday, May 30, 2014

I'd Kill to Grill Right Now

Those of you who live in a place in which you are allowed to having cooking appliances like grills and such...please allow me to say that I hope dearly that you love and cherish those  things right now.  Do it for me, please.

If I had access to a grill right now, this is what I'd do:

This is a wood-grilled ground sirloin steak (think glorified hamburger, really).  It's lying (laying?  who cares right now?) atop a crouton that has been smeared in ... wait for it, horseradish sauce.

*Collective Sigh*

Now.  Here's where the fun begins.  The dish would have been delicious as is; I ordered my meat medium rare, and that is exactly what I got.  The horseradish sauce was strong and tangy and the crouton provided a nice, carby base.

But Mary's Bistro here in Mackinac Island goes above and beyond.  With grilled bananas.

I know what you're thinking: What. The. Hell.

I was skeptical as well.  Then I tasted it.  And it blew my mind.  The heat of the grill, for some strange but scientifically explainable reason, makes the fruit sweeter, while lending a smoky flavor to it as well.  This sweet-smoky addition really hems in nicely the savory meat and tangy, sharp horseradish.  It's like a freaking food trifecta on one plate, man.  I mean, I didn't have to order dessert, you know what I'm saying?

However, this dish was one of only a few standouts on the menu that were different and unusual.  Otherwise, the menu consists of ribs, chicken tenders, chicken pot pie, etc.  But, you know, lots of people dig that kind of Americana...just not me right now.  No offense.

Here was the perturbing thing about the whole meal.

My waitress brought me oil and bread before the main event, and I was rather excited.  I'd never been served bread in a cute little white paper bag before...but then I opened the bag.   Then, I took a picture.

Look, I know America has a carbohydrate addiction problem.  We eat too much refined, processed flours and sugars.  We know!  But dammit, that bread looks really lonely and pathetic in there by itself.  And what a waste of a roomy paper bag. 

Eating at Mary's Bistro and living here on the island has impelled me to start my Christmas shopping list:

1.  A really nice grill (obviously gas would be way easier, but I wouldn't mind a wood-burning one, either)

2. A state-of-the-art gas stove.  I'm pretty sure I'd get a +4 modifier on my sauté skills (which, by the way, are getting pretty good anyway).

3. Other stuff which will be named at a later date.

Happy weekends, everybody!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Going To Keep It Brief Today...You Okay With That?

For the last three days, the Detroit Regional Chamber group has been here on the island.  They do a lot of networking and conferencing...two things that require a lot of bandwidth, you know.

The Internets have been shut off for the employees of the Grand Hotel, and when that happens, I go my Plan B - The Mackinac Island Public Library.

Today was an exhausting day.  The season is nearly here, and that means every day (practically) from here on out will be much like today.

I did eat my fancy-pants meal at a place called Mary's Bistro...and I have every intention of telling you all about it tomorrow.  But today...just pictures.

Beautiful weather prevails here on the Island these days.  It makes one's heart and spirit happy.

Kites near the Round Island Lighthouse

Just Beachy here near the library.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Crazy Plates!

So.  Part of my responsibilities at work include plating the dessert.  It's fairly simple - we have an apple pie, a cheesecake (two different kinds), and the Grand Pecan Ball (see my birthday post - 4/26/14).

The pie and cheesecakes are baked up at the Grand Hotel, so I don't have that to worry about.

Again, basically, I'm in charge of plating.  And the chef is really not too picky about how it's plated, as long as it's quick.

And here's where I wish I would have taken more initiative during my bakery classes.  Artistic decorating is not my forte.  At all.  Not even if my life depended on it.  This is what's standard for me here at the restaurant...

And up till now, I've settled for this.  But then, I got on the Internets, and found some new ideas...

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Martin Desserts

To my master artiste decorating friends out there, I realize this is basic.  Child's play.  But for me, it is Picasso (without the weird Cubism thing going) or Monet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Seabiscuit

I watched this movie once.  It was okay.  I'm not much into horses or Tobey Maguire.

But I have to admit, it takes a lot of guts to name a restaurant after that movie, knowing people will be expecting an over-the-top horse racing theme.  For goodness' sake, the tagline at The Seabiscuit Café is: Bet On A Good Time. 

An interior with wrought-iron horses, check.  Larger than life horse racing posters, check.  Huge TV in corner that plays the movie Seabiscuit on a loop, check.  However, what seems like chintzy and over the top is tempered by the classy brick red and black color scheme.  Elegant without being pompous.  And as I entered the eatery last night, there were a lot of kids eating with their family-friendly too, I guess.

But one place the horsey theme gets carried away is on the menu.  Categories like The Winner's Circle, Run for the Roses, Betting on the Favorites - I just didn't get it (although The Starting Gate?  I get that - appetizers).  Being a former English teacher and lover of words, I pay attention to little things like Menu Categories. 

There's a lot to look at on the menu.  I dithered for several moments as I scanned over the choices.  The selection is eclectic...I mean, there's ribs, steak, pasta, burgers...all with their own sweet little twists.  But in the end, when I saw the Great Lakes Whitefish Reuben with Creamy Coleslaw, Swiss Cheese, and Thousand Island dressing, I was done.  Selection made.

I mean, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know how much I love my Reuben (cf. here) sandwich.  The best, traditional, Reuben I've ever had was from New Orleans...but the one here at The Seabiscuit is in a category all its own.

That is Russian Rye bread.  That is a lightly breaded and fried whitefish fillet.  That is creamy coleslaw ON the sandwich.  Those are sweet potato fries with chipotle mayo.  Are you hearing the Hallelujah chorus? 

I asked the chef how he'd done the fillet and he told me his secret, with the proviso that I "could take it back to Iowa, but [I'd] better not use it around here."  Deal, chef.

And because you, my readers, would have expected no less, I ordered dessert.  A homemade Apple Carrot Cake with Buttercream Frosting.  It was served warm, making the frosting was that delicious oozy texture.  I paired the cake with a highly acidic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and it cut through that rich butteryness in a way that surprised and pleased me immensely.  I apologize for no pictures of the dessert...I was excited when it came, I pretty much smashed it within minutes.  Sorry, Brent.

It gives me hope...that on an island where the standard breaded cheese sticks, french fries, hamburgers, and chicken fingers run rampant...there are also dishes like the one above.  Differently delicious. 

If you come here to the island, I'll buy you one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Smack Me Around So That I Refocus

One month down.  Five to go.  It seems to have flown by, while other times I wonder if I'm doing a life sentence.

There are worse places I could be, I guess.  Like, Alcatraz.  Or Robben Island.  Or the damn well where Baby Jessica was trapped.

It's time to take a moment to remind myself that this blog is called To Thine Own Self, Be Food.  Not To Thine Own Self, Find The Cheapest Gin-and-Tonic On Island or To Thine Own Self, Try To Make Friends At Work.

It's time to step back and refocus.  I have not talked about food much here lately...well, some, I guess, but not enough.  I suppose that's because I feel there's not much excitingness about black bean dip or basil cream sauce.

Even worse, I have not thought much about food while I've been here.  I haven't read much about it and I haven't tried much of it.  I had every grand idea about coming here and having the time to read and learn and think about food.

And well, confession time.

I've been caught up in attending Ladies' Night, checking out the newest wine bar, working at the restaurant, reading Shakespeare et al, biking around and exploring the island, and watching movies I borrow from the library.

I know, dear readers, you are all probably telling me to not be so hard on myself.  There are worse things I could be doing.

But let's face it, I'm here for all things culinary.  And I have fair missed the mark.

Here's where I prostrate myself at your feet and beg your forgiveness for my laxity.  (Pause to imagine this)

And here's where I start again.  While I was at the bar last night, enjoying cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon (rock bottom, people), it occurred to me that while I was surrounded by people (mostly white), I was actually alone.  I was lonely.  There was nobody for me to talk to, and I spent two hours pretending to be interested in the Detroit Tigers baseball game on TV (ask my husband, I don't even DO THIS at home).  That's how dire the situation has gotten.

Tonight, instead of going to the bar, I am going to a restaurant. I am going to order off the menu and I am going to photograph it and write about it.  And I'm going to do it all right here.  Then, I'll repeat the process in a few days.  

The theory is that this will cause me to refocus and remember what it is that I'm supposed to be doing here.

Okay.  Now I've aired my dirty laundry, how was your day?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Having The Bike Of My Life...

And I've never felt this way before.

I lasted two weeks, folks.  Two weeks of walking the three-quarters of a mile to work, not to mention hoofing it anywhere else I wanted to go...rain, snow, or shine.

This here is Stella Isla, Spanish for 'Island Star'.  I've had her for about a week, and I love her very much.  As much as a person could sanely love an inanimate object, that is.  She's one year old, and she's German.  She comes with a sweet detachable basket, good for holding my backpack, my uniform, my bottles of Grenache...

With Stella, anything is possible here now.  Like...

These are all pictures of where I live.  Mackinac Island is 3.8 square miles, and is ringed by an 8-mile highway, which is perfect for walking (uh, no) or biking (please).  The only thing I lament is that Stella is classified as a "cruiser" and many of the gorgeous rugged trails here are for mountain bikes only.  I suspect I may have to walk a little if I want to cover those off the beaten track paths.

I truly *like* biking everywhere I need to go.  I like not having a car.  I like only going into shops here and buying only what I can carry on my bike.  I think it will be a big challenge coming back home to my small town, and being at the mercy of so many cars.

But I'll tell you something...

Nobody puts Stella in a corner.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What Am I Eating?

I have minced enough jalapeños for one day.  We'll just leave it at that.

In deliberating over today's blog post topic, I thought it was high time I talk about food.  Since...after all, I am here in a culinary capacity.

What I am eating, and what I am serving at the restaurant I work at are two TOTALLY different things.

I work with Jamaicans, mostly...and when they fix lunch (which is just about everyday), they fix red beans and rice and some kind of seasoned (jerk, adobo, etc.) chicken (that's been stewing all day).  Because it's been so slow, they've also taken to making breakfast this week as well. 

So, I've been having porridge in the morning.  And it is good, stick-to-the-bones stuff.  Oatmeal, milk, plantain, peanuts, nutmeg and other stuff cooked down and pureed together.  It's very thick and sustaining.

It is best when served warm.  I learned this today when I ate mine cold...distracted by having to make a pico de gallo.  Sheesh...what is this thing called work!?

Also, there are Filipinos in the kitchen, and they take the discarded chicken skins, season and flour them, and then fry them.  They are crispy on the outside and fatty/juicy on the inside.  A vinegar, onion, garlic dipping sauce goes with (common back home, they say).

I'm jealous, to be frank with you.  I wish I had that kind of unique cuisine-sense I could present.

Now.  I work in a restaurant that caters mostly to tourists and families.  There are some upper-end dishes; however, the kids' menu does contain chicken fingers. 

No.  These are not the kids' chicken fingers.  This one of the dishes I am responsible for.  A Wild Mushroom Ravioli with a Basil Cream.  I am responsible for making the cream itself, in addition to preparing it to order.  I also make the basil and parsley oils that are drizzled over the top of the dish.  All that's missing are some pink peppercorns.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Deep Thoughts...Bordering On Unfathomable

About once a week, I get a Facebook message from the husband, in which he lists off the activities he and the kids have for the week.  This list seems quite practice, bowling, Boy & Cub Scouts, soccer practice and games, Drama Awards banquet, and on and on and on.

That's a lot of running and driving and eating on the fly for my family in Iowa.

And then...there's my schedule.  Considerably slower: work, walk, shower, read, explore the island, eat.  Repeat for five and a half more months.

You don't have to tell me who's got the more difficult, stressful job.  I wake up every morning, grateful for the support system I've got in place.  Most people here on the island are shocked when I tell them I have a spouse and three kids back home...who miss me (enough as I miss them, though?)  But I am incredibly lucky.  Incredibly.

I have no TV in my room and I don't have a great working Internet.  At first, that was rough.  I'm used to have fast, quick Internets and being connected to things.

But, now, in those few moments I have in the mornings while I'm having breakfast, I check Facebook, and I find there is nothing there that hardly catches my eye anymore.  A couple of conversations that are important to me, a few pictures, and birthday notifications...but beyond that, most people on FB are living their lives like they've always been wont to do.

I'm the one who's changed, I guess.

I'm trying not to sound's just, well, I'm here in a place where my everyday decisions are pretty black and white (do I walk to work or take a horse taxi?  Do I go the wine cellar tonight or stay home and read Shakespeare?)  And well, it feels easier to keep a good balance here when my options are limited.  I was used to thinking that if I had more, I'd feel more freedom...but actually, the opposite is happening - the less I have, the more balanced I feel.

Which brings me back to Brent who feels pulled in five directions on a DAILY basis.  He has to prioritize and minimize and juggle his work schedule, the kids' activities, and all those other necessary things like eating, sleeping, and maintaining personal hygiene.

I can't tell you enough or emphasize it so desperately...I am so very lucky to be here.  I hope someday, the ones I love will be lucky enough to be here too.  And I mean really be here.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thank You, Andrew Carnegie

Mackinac Island, Michigan is a beautiful place.  You should all come here.

But, not right now.  It is still unseasonably cold and rainy, and many of the attractions are still closed.

It’s still beautiful...but in that gray, cold, uncomfortably Gothic kind of way.

This is my most favorite place here right now.

Yes.  It really is that color.  And you can’t tell from the picture, but its windows and doors open onto a lovely little stretch of sandy beach, seconds from the water.  (No swimming, allowed, though - dangerous currents!)

This library has a small collection, just the right size for its small population.  But, it also has a nice variety from local periodicals (the Mackinac Island Town Crier) to the big names (Better Homes and Gardens) to even the speciality (Bon Appetit).

For the cost of $10 (as an out-of-stater), I quickly procured a library card and checked out a book on the sights and history of Mackinac Island and My Life in France by Julia Child.  I was back two days later to check out  Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

A picturesque setting and access to a gloriously quaint library.  I am living the charmed life. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Color Code

How many of you can recall the literature you read in high school?  That you were required to read, that is? 

Those lines have blurred for me over the years.  I have trouble remembering which reading was required by high school teachers, which reading I did for my own enjoyment, and which reading I did later on in college.  And then I get further mixed up because I was an English teacher for over a decade, after all.  And that’s more books!

Naturally, I recall Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade.  I want to say Lord of the Flies is in there somewhere, but I also taught that book.  The Great Gatsby, I can’t remember if that was high school or college.  I know I did Macbeth and Hamlet in high school, along with Grapes of Wrath, Cold Sassy Tree, 1984, and Brave New World.

Ah, Brave New World.  Who else remembers that one?  Aldous Huxley did dystopian long before it became the in-thing (i.e. Hunger Games and Divergent).  Society was organized into castes: Alphas, Beta, Deltas, Gammas, Epsilons (am I missing one?) and all castes were recognizable to each other by the colors they wore.  Alphas wore gray, Betas were mulberry, maybe?, Epsilons wore black.  And the castes did not mix.  They pretty much stayed to themselves.

A weird book and not altogether a happy one (although, are any dystopians happy enders?).

I think of Huxley today as I reflect upon the similar phenomenon going on at the hotel I am employed’s just not nearly as odious as Brave New World’s version.  With a lavish resort such this one, there are several different types of jobs and departments needed to insure that the place runs smoothly.  It’s taken me a few days, and I still don’t have it all worked out, but as far as I can discern:

Black-and-white checked pants/white chef coats: Foodservice Staff (which would include yours truly)

Striped dresses/aprons/and caps: Housekeeping

Red blazers: Front Desk/Reservations

Red coats with tails/red caps: Bellhops (are they still called that?  My Victorian hotelspeak is rusty)

White tuxedo jackets/black bowties: Waitstaff

Black dinner jackets/black bowties: Head Servers, Maitre’d

Hunter green work pants and jackets: Maintenance or Groundskeeping

Teal green coats with tails: No Idea...this is still under investigation

See, unlike Brave New World, though, no group here is better or worse than the others.  And that’s the thing about the hospitality field...there is no one-man show.  There is only a network of interconnected and interdependent people and departments.  What would be point of having great chefs if there’s nobody to serve their food?  Who cares about the marvelous Front Desk staff if the landscaping of the whole place has been neglected?

You see what I’m saying, Aldous Huxley?  You see it, bro?

Anyway, that’s today thought.  The inspiration theme song of the day was Irene Cara’s “Fame - What a Feeling” from the movie “Flashdance.  And while I do not foresee myself dancing provocatively in the kitchen, it was a great pump-up song for a day of making chicken nachos.  Because I’m gonna live forever...