I am really blessed. Growing up, summer vacation meant staying at home and maybe a trip, but mostly it was time spent at home swimming in the lake, boating with the neighborhood kids, or at the swimming at the country club my parents belonged. Thirty-six years later, I have a place to go for the summer – the cottage in Michigan. It’s not mine, but it belongs to Beth’s family and has been in her family since the fifties.
I’ve been coming up here since we got married in ’91. I remember my first visit in ’92, we were here a week and it was very peaceful. That was BK (before kids). There are many memories at the cottage, but the ones that I enjoy the most are summer foods. The cottage is in the middle of the lower peninsula about 200 miles from Detroit on I-75. It is just west of Grayling, an old logging town, on the Ausable River. It is a peaceful cottage on a lake large enough for powered boats, but not too large for big boats that go fast and make noise. The cottage isn’t far from Traverse City to the west and the fruit-growing region along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. They grow cherries, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries and they are their peak and freshest in July and early August. Right about now.
I enjoy cooking and always have. Before I was a teacher, I had a career in the restaurant business and I learned about food growing up in my mom’s kitchen. She was a great cook growing up and she still is. Although I have many cookbooks, I love to experiment and have a few old recipes burned into my brain. Most of the cooking, I do at the cottage doesn’t require a cookbook, or a recipe, they are just ingredients put together or cooked separately and served as a meal.
Beth’s family is in the egg business and when grandpa and grandma come to the cottage there are always eggs, lots of them. Unfortunately, grandma and grandpa are not here this summer, yet I am hoping they get up to the cottage; it’s just not the same without them. Yesterday before the kids woke, I began frying bacon. When bacon fries at the cottage, the aroma wakes folks, wafts its way into bedrooms, and wakes even sleeping kids. Olivia was the first up and then William came downstairs. After the bacon was done and I had fried enough for breakfast and BLTs for lunch, I started on eggs. Eggs are done one way at the cottage – sunny side up with bacon grease spooned over top after they have been salted and peppered. Their done when the yolks are still runny and the whites are firm. It is served with buttered toast slathered with cherry jam made right here at the cottage. It’s called a Michigan breakfast and I’ve eaten it growing up, at home in Illinois, and at the Weaver’s in Ohio but it is always called a Michigan breakfast. When I think of summer, I think of a Michigan breakfast. We sit at the table, enjoy the morning together, and then get started on our day.
Olivia and I had been on the lake fishing; she caught three fish and I was shutout. But, I didn’t care it was fun watching her and seeing the joy in catching a fish. She caught two blue gills and a small baby small mouth bass whose mouth was large enough to swallow the hook to the eyelet and it didn’t survive. The other two were released, to be caught another day. It was sunny on the lake making us hungry. When we came in we had lunch, I made BLTs, and they tasted great. The kids enjoyed them and were back on the lake with their friends down the shore, enjoying the warm sunny afternoon.
While they were out on the lake boating and swimming, I went to town for groceries and run a few errands. When I got back, I started putting together dinner: BBQ chicken, cucumber and onion salad, and blueberry crisp with vanilla cream for dessert. I can cook and prepare the same dinner at home or Beth can, but it always tastes better when it is cooked at the cottage and served on the deck after a day at the lake.
The sun set and it slowly night descended on the cottage, we had our blueberry crisp and then the kids wanted to go to a campfire down the lake and were gone. It is a safe community of families up here and I thought nothing of it. They crawled home close to midnight, smelling of a campfire, and sleepily climbed into their beds falling fast asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows. I stayed awake long enough to read a chapter of my book and thought about the day and days ahead. It was a great day.
As I write Thursday morning, the lake is calm and it is quiet in the cottage. The kids are sleeping, it was a late night and they had a busy day. The kids have plans for the day and so do I; there are chores, fun to be had, and always summer foods. Making the Days Count, one meal at a time. What are your favorite summer foods?