...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kitchen Pilgrimage: Lakefront Cabin in Wisconsin

or...how low (tech) can you go...and still cook these days?

I'll share with you a bit from my personal journal today as it chronicles our weekend trip to a wintry little cabin on Lake Michigan--a birthday trip gifted to my by my husband. Besides taking you along to enjoy the time with me, I'll share how I coped (much like when I go camping) with the loss of much of my kitchen gadgetry.

January 29, 2011

We arrived late last night in deep darkness and snow. Momentarily "lost" along the wooded lane coming here, we reviewed directions via Blackberry access to our email direction, we were soon and rolling along again. Obviously, we are a techno family, but this weekend would be sans technology--no TV, no computer, no radio...and the only phone line, we traced from the wall jack to a cabinet that was nailed shut! Still, we had electricity. We had running water. We were wrapped in all the comfort we needed, right?

Before entering the cabin, though, we weren't so confident about that comfort factor. The snow was rather deep and had not been shoveled. We trudged around the base of the cabin on the frontage road side looking for a path up the hill where the little structure was embedded. Finding a handrail, we pulled ourselves up a snow-buried stone stairway to the crest of the little hill. There, we found what hardly qualified as a front door--more like a side shed door. Uncertain of it, we shuffled along the lakeside length of the cabin, searching for another entrance; but finding none we resigned ourselves to this humble door as our Main Entryway.
After unhooking the door and prying it open against the snow, we stepped into a closet-sized mud-room. There we were plunged into a pitch black quiet, leaving the sound of crashing waves and the minimal reflection of sky light bouncing between clouds and snow. The place was far too dark to find the prescribed hiding place for the key: tucked in a garden glove hanging on the wall. Being the moderns we are, though, we used our cell phones as flashlights, and thereby found the key and opened the door. After a quick tour of the uncommon little cabin, we unpacked quickly and bedded down for the night.

(a daytime view of that front door)

(trying to decide where to park)

The next morning brought a steely grey sky with it, although the snow had ended. We'd brought fruit and muffins for breakfast so we munched on these as we planned our day. I'd had the forethought to bring instant coffee which I made with bottled water (the well water smelled heavily of sulfur) in a teapot. A quick survey of the kitchen showed our limitations: no microwave, no dishwasher, basic cookware, an old dining table badly listing toward the living room and covered in a cheery vinyl tablecloth. What's more, the light above the table did not work, so a candle lit dinner would be not just romantic but required tonight.

(an old-fashioned push-button stove and a heavy porcelain sink were primary features in the cabin's little kitchen)

By this time, the teapot was singing, so I made my instant coffee and sat down to make a shopping list of a sort. We planned to lunch in the little town of Oostburg, do some grocery shop there, and then return to the cabin for supper. Not that we were rushing around. I took the time to sit in the window seat, bundled in my favorite fleece pajamas and homemade-knitted footies, drinking coffee and perusing the guestbook. The guests were quirky and eclectic, like the cabin they felt called to visit. As one woman put it, "being here is like the adult version of discovering object permanence..." Another who came in early spring commemorated her visit by pasting in little seeds and delicate flowers. Nearly everyone drew pictures or wrote poems about their stay. Something about the remoteness of the place and the reflections of its other guests took my mind back to a favorite recurring dream I have. In it, I go up a dark, cumbersome stairway. Cobweb covered and paint chipped, it appears abandoned for decades. But at the top, I find a doorway--Alice in Wonderland small--that opens into a fabulously decorated, expansive and serene apartment.
This weekend, so far, feels like that!


We went out to lunch at a little pizza buffet, stopped at a local grocery and finished our errands including an impulse stop at a local bakery. We bought a mound of pastries there, expecting to pay a fortune. The final bill: $13.00. We've decided we love this town! Back at the cabin, I unpacked the groceries, put on my snow boots and grabbed the camera. I planned to use the afternoon snapping pictures along the beach. But following the weekend's theme, those things worth doing would require extra effort. The public access path was 6 ft. deep with mounded snow. As I was resigning myself to taking shots from the back patio, I spotted a little trail--a private path down from the cabin. With careful footing, it was navigable and led me to the beach. My walk on the beach was unlike any beach walk I've ever known. Two long corridors of snow, separated by icy ridges, served as the beach, and I walked that ice "road" and listened to the waves. Though I was near the waterline, I could not see it behind the billowing mound of snow frozen between me and the waves.

(one spot where an icy "crag" broke away for a view of the ice-littered lake)

Finally, I returned to the cabin, shoveled a path from the wood pile to the door, stocked the wood box and started a fire. Soon, it would be time to fix dinner, but not before warming myself beside that fire.

Dinner could take one of two courses: either significantly simply, or else utterly time-consuming and complicated. Nothing much in between. Such was the humble offering of the little kitchen. I chose the simple route: dry garlic toast, a variety sampler of deli salads and shaved ham, a ready-made tray of mixed cheeses and the one thing I cooked: creamy vegetable soup. Don't think, however, that I put too much effort into that soup. It was a dried mix to which I added a can of cream of mushroom soup and a few cups of milk. I whisked it all together and set it to simmer for about 20 minutes.
The resulting meal was a finger food and drippy spoon delight! And, sink-side cleanup was minimal, leaving plenty of time for conversation by the fire and candle-lit Scrabble at the table, all the while munching on dessert pastries from that little bakery.

It was simple, but one of the most enjoyable meals I can remember eating for a long time!

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