Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jockeying For Food (Warning: New Look)

So.  Two pieces of news here on Mackinac Island.

One, the big piece: I come home this month (meaning September).  I decided to terminate my contract with the Grand Hotel almost six weeks before I'd originally intended, but frankly, it's time to go home and get on with the decisions that need to be made at home.

And, up until about a week ago, I'd spent four months on the same station, doing the exact same things every day.  Even though I'd asked the chef and sous chef if I might try other jobs.  And...the schedule that went up after I resigned and told the chef had me scheduled for Expediter and Hot Line.  I've got the best of both worlds...I'm leaving early and I'm getting a chance to learn some other kitchen skills.

Two, the slightly smaller but no less important: Thanks to a nice guy who lives two doors down from me, I now have decent internet in my room.  That means my blog should be updated much more regularly and I can actually watch videos on Amazon Prime.  I never never never fully understood how much I appreciated good internet.

As I scan the calendar now, I realize I'm down to two days off left in my stay here on the Island (would have been three, but today's one of 'em).  And there are three restaurants left on the island I want to try before I go.

So, let's begin with the First of The Last Three.

As a Grand Hotel employee, I get a discount on meals at any Grand Hotel-affiliated restaurant, of which there are four or five.  Today's choice was a place called The Jockey Club...which as I see it is not really the "homestyle" vibe of Cawthorne's Village Inn nor the "sporty" vibe of the Gate House (where I work), nor the "fine dining" vibe of the Woods restaurant.  I guess maybe it's going for "casual elegant"?  The decor is horse-related, naturally, and the menu is peppered with items you'll find at other places on the island.

However, The Jockey Club gets my vote for inside arrangement and seating and ambiance.

The picture is crummy, but you'll see this place uses jockey's hats as lampshades.  Lots of somber wood panelling, a stone fireplace, and polished wood tables and chairs could definitely sober up this restaurant's ambiance, but the green hats add a little touch of fun, and I for one liked it.

There is a nice big patio for outdoor seating as well as a semi-outdoor, screened seating area.  I chose, however, to sit inside, where "cozy" is a great word for description.  The inside has a six-person bar area, and maybe sits 75-85.  It's hard to describe, although I'm trying, but it's intimate and close (which might be annoying if it were busy, but it wasn't today, so I found it quaint).

The lunch menu is very short, maybe ten items, mostly wraps and sandwiches.  While I had a pretty straight up roasted turkey wrap, the whitefish sandwich came with a jicama-spinach slaw and a lemon-caper remoulade...and I can appreciate those little twists in menu.  However, I really can't appreciate the price.  $13 for the wrap, and $4 for the Diet Coke I had with it.  Meh.  But, it's the Island.  Prices are high, for the tourists, dontcha know?

That's a spicy ranch dressing there in the ramekin, and I don't know about you, but I'm kinda over spicy ranch, chipotle mayo, herb aioli ad nauseum.  It gets pretensious, really, trying to sell a burger or turkey wrap or ham and cheese croissant by fancifying the condiments that come with it.

To me, a jacked-up ranch dressing or mayo only covers a bland-tasting product.

I suspect this place really shines at dinner time, where the entrees are a bit more creative (and expensive).  Too bad I won't be making there for that.  Ah well, life goes on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Education Comes In All Sorts of Cool Forms

Here’s a hard-and-fast fact about doing a culinary internship on Mackinac Island: whatever you think you’re going to learn - you might not, but - you can also count on learning things you didn’t intend to.

June, July, and August are the busiest times here...sometimes 300+ orders for lunch and maybe more at night.  The chef is less concerned about my internship education, and more about the bottom line and getting quality food out to the paying customers.  And rightfully so.

So, I’ve had to make my own opportunities.  That’s why I’ve eaten at some different restaurants, learned about craft beers, read and made notes with the library’s subscription of Bon Appetit magazine, and brought and studied (though, not as much as I should have) my own food and wine books.  I suppose I should have tried to hobnob more with other chefs on the island, but if they’re anything like the one I work for, their kitchens are too incredibly busy for me to roam about with questions. Perhaps after Labor Day, which is when I’ve heard tourist traffic begins to lessen.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I catch an advertisement on Facebook for an event called “Getting Weird with Beer”...a small plates-style, four-course meal paired with a different style of beer!  AT the craft beer place (Facebook, Draught House, Mackinac Island...go Google now) that I like to frequent anyway.

Excitement...Not Contained. 

Finally, decent food, decent drink, conversation and conviviality!

(I think at some point I probably need to chronicle here my adventures in the area of craft beer...since it’s become an area of interest for me lately, but for now, pictures and succinct commentary will have to suffice.)

Anyway.  The event was attended by seven(?) of us.  A small turnout, considering the hundreds of people that were on the island today.  But, that’s the fickleness of living and working here - tourists come to the island already with an agenda in mind, and it requires a certain kind of go-with-the-flowness to chuck in-place plans for a two-hour food and beer tasting.

I ended up at a table with the bar manager’s grandma and her friend.  The grandma openly admitted to not being much of a beer drinker, but that she was here to support her grandson (Go, Grandma!).  However, as the food and beer came, it became fun to see the ladies talk about how the beer and food fit together.  At one point, the grandma commented that the Hefeweizen was like “licking a Band-Aid” - talk about a great, vivid description!  Then, she found it much more palatable when she was drinking it with the flash-fried, cocoa-powder-dusted Brussels sprouts.  

The conviviality certainly was there - just what I was looking for.  Thank gods for that!
Enjoy the pictures.

First course was a Seared Scallop with a Coconut Curry Sauce and Braised Bok Choy.  Paired with Arbor Tree Brewing Company's Strawberry Blonde

Second Course: Flash-fried Brussels Sprouts with Cocoa Powder and Sea Salt

Third Course: Bacon-Wrapped Blue Cheese-Stuffed Fig with Balsamic Reduction

Fourth Course: Pork and Veal Meatball with Red Mole Sauce
Paired with a Stout from Arbor Tree Brewing (I'd forgotten to ask which stout by this point in the deepest apologies)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tastes Like...Chicken Feet

Have you ever wondered what chicken feet taste like?  Is this something that has kept you up at night?

Thank goodness, then, you’re reading this blog today. 

I’ve learned that the Filipino culture, especially, is quite skilled at making the most of every animal they may eat.  And the feet of chicken is no exception.

Frankly, I’ve always wondered what happens to the castoffs in chicken-processing plants...the feet, the heads, the combs of roosters, etc.  Well, I can’t speak for the other two, but the feet all get stuffed into plastic bags and shipped off to grocery stores of cultures who can make something out of them.

It’s not rocket science, really.  Humans have been braising and stewing things ever since we learned we could.  The slow heat and moisture tenderizes the toughest, leanest piece of protein or the most cellulose-ridden piece of fruit/vegetable, rendering a tender, flavorful final product. And that includes chicken feet.

When I posted this picture on Facebook...

I got mostly Ewwwws (I have no Filipino FB friends, you see).  But is that because they taste nasty or because they look like little shriveled monkey paws?  The latter, is my guess.  So, what do they taste like?  Chicken wings, actually.  Just with more bones and a little more fatty skin.  Pretty tasty, really.

Although, I don’t see any BBF (Buffalo Wild Feet) chain of restaurants opening up in America any time soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Youngest...In Photos...With Food

So, today is my youngest son's birthday, and it is a milestone...10 years old.  Double digits.

As I'm scrolling through all the Facebook photos I might have ever posted of him, I begin to notice a pattern - that I take an awful lot of pictures of my kids...with food.

And then I realize that probably doesn't surprise it shouldn't surprise me.

So, what better way to celebrate the wee one's birthday than with a montage of him with food.

These two were taken when he was about four and a half.   You'll notice his palate is quite unrefined as he prefers single items: frosting and strawberries.

From right around that same time period...

Always the BLUE ring pop!

And about three years later, he still has a thing for frosting...

But, he's also not afraid to try new shellfish.  I didn't say he liked it, I just said he wasn't afraid to try it.

A few months later, he tries gelato from a Dutch chocolaterie.  It appears to go well.

And, just recently, his maturity really begins to take off when he tries (and likes) poutine, the classic Canadian dish.


He's come quite a ways, culinary-wise, in the last ten years.  Hopefully the next ten will be even better.  Happy Birthday, kiddo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

If Shakespeare Had Done National Novel Writing Month

Today’s post is not related to food. Side effects may include: increased IQ, increased cultural enlightenment, and increased sensitivity to the arts.

For the last five years, every November, I’ve participated in a writing adventure called National Novel Writing Month (or shorthand, NaNoWriMo)  Hundreds of thousands of people around the world crank out a 50,000+ novel in the course of only 30 days.

I’m still on the fence about NaNo participation this year, being as that I’ll arrive home from the island just days before the chaos begins.  However, I reason to myself, I’ve got plenty of time NOW to prepare and research and outline the novel...

Which I plan to get to as soon as I finish my island goal of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays.

Which brings me to the point of today’s blog entry title.  It is said when writing his works, Shakespeare “never blot’d a line”, which is pretty get it right the first time without mistakes.  However, there are certain plays of The Bard’s that I think would have benefitted from some kind of editing process.

And The Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of them.  In fact, I am further convinced that Shakespeare wrote this play in response to some kind of timely demand, such as: “Holy buggery hell, the Queen’s coming to The Globe next week!  We need a new play!  Will, get on it, man!”

Hence, the play I mentioned above.  And because he’s William Shakespeare, nobody really questioned the play, its meager plot, and many, many discrepancies.

The play itself is simple: two guys from Verona, Italy, come to Milan to, I dunno, travel the world and get more worldly?  Meet some rich nobility guys and network?  Anyway, the one guy, Valentine, is like, yeah, look at me!  Having the time of my life!  His buddy, Proteus, is like, who cares about traveling the world?  I’m in love with Julia and I don’t want to leave her anyway.  Eventually, Proteus’s dad is like, kid, people are going to think you’re a wuss if you don’t get out and do something with your life.  So, I’m kicking you out of Verona...go hang out with Valentine in Milan.

But hey, something interesting has happened to Valentine in Milan...he’s fallen in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia.  And she’s into him too...but, it’s not a totally equitable (albeit respectable) match, so it’s kept under wraps for now.  Until Proteus gets there, and guess what?  Proteus sees Silvia one time, and just like that, Julia is history.

And this, I fear, is where the Bard began to feel the pressure of the time constraint.  In short:

1. Proteus dithers for about five minutes about this dilemma...eventually deciding to double-cross his best friend, Valentine and utterly forsake his first true love, Julia.  So, he reveals a Valentine-Silvia midnight marriage plan to the Duke of Milan, who promptly throws Valentine out of his kingdom.  This is WTH Moment #1 - I’d actually liked Proteus and was hugely disappointed by this act of jerkness.

2. Three outlaws are hanging out in the forest where Valentine, dejected, wanders through.  They confess to their various sins (trying to access a lord’s daughter, killing another man, etc.) before deciding Valentine should be their leader in their aimlessness.  WTH Moment #2.

3. Julia, meanwhile, having no idea she’s been thrown over, decides to sneak out to go to Proteus...but in order to not be molested on the journey, she decided to dress up as a man.  Lo and behold and not a big surprise, she ends up in the service of Proteus, who is now trying to woo Silvia now that Valentine is out of the picture.  Poor Julia, really.  Why she doesn’t just haul off and punch him in the gonads is beyond me.

4. At some point, Silvia abandons her home to search for Valentine, whom she loves. 

5. Everyone, fortuitously (the Duke included), meets up in the forest.  Where a bunch of really weird things happen:

a. Valentine is pissed, naturally, at the betrayal of his best friend.

b. Proteus pleads, like, partial insanity for his behavior.  WTH Moment #3.

c. Julia reveals herself and Proteus is like oh, babe, there you are! (#4)

d. Valentine forgives Proteus...immediately. (#5)

e. The Duke of Milan forgives Valentine...immediately.  And then grants the hand of his daughter. (#6)

f. Valentine asks that the outlaws with him be forgiven for their crimes.  Duke agrees...immediately. (#7)

And then, what started out as a clever, romantic farce ends up a quick WTF happy ending piece of horse pucky.  Valentine, at the very least, should have punched Proteus in the face.  Julia, at the very least, should have made Proteus grovel for penitence.  And the Duke was just an idiot.

It’s almost like Shakespeare was at the 11th hour when he got to the end, and he was just like, ah, forget it, it’s just The she can tell between good story and bad, and then he just cranked off some unbelievable, quick ending to just get it over with.

So.  Yeah.  That’s my profound, philosophical argument today.  The Two Gentlemen of Verona was Shakespeare’s speed-driven crap.  Perfect for NaNoWriMo.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Pink Pony...NOT A Stripclub

Although...when you hear a name like that...doesn't your mind make that logical leap?

Or, am I just the only gutter-minded person here?

Recently, the husband and family were here for one last hurrah visit before school starts, and the Pink Pony was practically the only place packed to the gills on a Tuesday night...around 11 pm.

I personally think it has to do with the live music...the PP has an acoustic guitarist that plays there several days a week...and he does a bitchin' acoustic rendition of Guns N Roses's "Sweet Child o Mine".  That's a draw, I'm sure, but other than that, I don't know what the appeal is.

Until I ate there tonight.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Obviously, this place specializes in drinks and getting people pleasantly tipsy, so I was expecting typical pub grub-type fare.

And then I saw this on the menu and subsequently ordered.  A Honey Apple Brie Flatbread.  Good Lord.  Yes, please.  Fruit and cheese are one of my favorite, favorite combinations, and after I saw this, I scoured the wine list for a glass of bubbly (Prosecco or similar), and alas, those types of libations were only available by the bottle. 

What would you have done?  Ordered an Angry Orchard Hard Apple Cider to complement the flatbread, right?

Whew.  Good thing we agree there.  'Cause that's what I did.

The only problem here is how exactly to eat the above creation (once you stop admiring it, that is).  A fork and knife are kind of ridiculous, especially with that crispy crust, which really leaves your fingers.  And that's what I did.  I picked it up, kind of folded it in half, and tried to sophisticatedly shove it into my mouth.  Luckily, I was tucked into a half-secluded little corner of the restaurant where only my waitress and a nearby couple could witness my uncouthness.

Another problem with this is the sticky, honey-covered fingers.  Which would be not a problem if you had used a fork and knife to eat the damn thing. 

Hm.  Good to note to next time.

My next dish was a side version of the Thai Crunch Salad.

Probably looks like a version of a Thai-peanut salad you've seen before.  Cabbage, rice noodles on top, lime-cilantro, and a peanut-buttery dressing.

Of which there was too much of.  My salad, while delicious, was drenched in dressing. Typically, not a way I like to eat my salad (or prepare them, for that matter).  However, this is why I now know to ask for my dressings on the side...which I did not tonight, in my haste and excitement over dining out.

There are other surprises that await me on this menu, I know.  True, I won't be ordering the Pony Wings or Calamari...but there's a Michigan Goat Cheese and Apple Salad that caught my eye, along with a Coconut Shrimp with Piña Colada Rice or a Filet and Wild Mushroom Risotto or a Whitefish Beurre Blanc that sounds yummy as well.

Pink Pony...A place where "Pony Up" doesn't mean what you think it means.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

15 Down, 13 To Go!

Here is a fact that will amaze you...probably because it amazes me.

Well, it’s more likely it WON’T amaze you, because I am amazed by simple and small things as well as awesomely big things...and no doubt my readers in the US and around the world are more worldly and sophisticated.

My time on Mackinac Island, Michigan began on Saturday, April 19.  According to the contract I have with the Grand Hotel, my time here ends on Friday, October 31.

If my math and counting skills are correct, then:

My internship is 28 weeks long.

I have completed 15 weeks of said internship.

I have 13 weeks left.


I am over halfway done.  This is the amazing fact I was referring to at the beginning.  I am 13 weeks away from being with my family and friends again.  I have begun to think maybe I will make it the whole distance!

Let’s recap my adventures up to this point (all numbers are estimate).

Quantity of bean dip made in one standard restaurant batch: 20 quarts

Number of batches made so far: 20

Number of miles biked: Not sure, really, but a lot?

Number of flat tires and replaced brakes: 2 and 1, respectively

Number of alcohol beverages consumed: Probably too many

Number of Shakespeare plays read here on the island: 3 (my shame knows no bounds)

Number of restaurants eaten at: 5? 6?

Number of times I have lamented terrible Internet and cell phone service here: Innumerable

Number of job offers from impressed island chefs: 0

Number of times I have been asked (directly or indirectly through husband) what will I do after the internship? 32

Number of times I have responded with a “Not sure yet” or “Still figuring it out”: 32

Number of minutes lost sleeping thinking about What I Will Do After The Internship: 329

Number of significant events missed at home: 4 (my birthday, anniversary, youngest son’s birthday, First Day of School)

Number of times I have wanted to come home: More than 10, less than 30

It’s been a struggle at times, I won’t lie.  That last fact is truetruetrue.  But something won’t let me come home yet.  I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s the branch I hang onto as I’m trying to survive out here.