Storms, laughter, nourishment, and beauty. My Girl's Weekend at Grand Beach was all of these and more.
It was a crisp and very cool May afternoon in Grand Beach, Michigan. It was Thursday, the car was packed to the gills, and the GPS chirped happily when we turned into the driveway and surveyed our home for 4 days. Hurrying to see the docile blue waves gently lapping the shoreline, I wished instantly I was running along its edges. But that wasn't to be. My knees were just beginning to respond to the supplements I hoped would remove the agonizing ache in my joints. But it would all be okay. I was spending the whole weekend cooking. I could have command of an expansive culinary space that looked out upon a sapphire horizon. I would be surrounded by women who had known me for nearly three decades. I couldn't wait to unpack, put on my apron, and get to work.
"Yes, Tricia. I will be there for our Beach Girl's Trip!" I had said last fall, quickly answering a heartfelt email from my lifelong friend who needed to gather all of her most special women together for a rendezvous at the water's edge. The condition was I wanted to be the chef for the whole weekend. I wanted to nourish all these friends; these women who have been my safety net for almost 30 years. She accepted my terms without hesitation.
The home was grand, which is an understatement. But then, isn't everything at Grand Beach? It provided a canvas that we painted with tastes and truth. Each of us bringing to the friendship and the table a different skill. Each of us sharing secrets that easily emerged once the first cork was dislodged and the first course served.
As you might guess, I set about getting the lay of the "kitchen," so to speak. Locating the tools, arranging the food, and reviewing the handwritten menu I had scrawled only the day before so everything was poised for perfection.
Our first evening was simple, and full of flavor. Baked cod topped with a Blackberry Ginger Chutney made by simmering oranges and blackberries with ginger, a bit of champagne vinegar, red onions, and a knob of ginger. It was placed atop a puree of cauliflower scented with a hint of coriander, garlic, and cream, and served alongside a simple salad of dressed baby kale. It carried us through the night as we listened to the calm outside turn to a loud and satisfying spring storm and chose between a dessert of Texas sheet cake and delicious apple bars. Each bite represented a nudge up in dress size, but we were in no mood to be good!
I love it when a Friday feels like a Sunday. Leaving the week behind for the sound of yawns and coffee flowing at dawn I arose early on day 2, took on the mantle of nourisher again, and began to chop the vegetables that would fill the personal omelet cups. With the smell of bacon filling the air, and grated cheese falling like lace, we prepped for brunch. Although the eggs were perfect, the star was the small heirloom carrots, sliced lengthwise and roasted in a 425 degree oven with rosemary and orange vinaigrette. After tossing cantaloupe with a hint of lemon and cinnamon it was time to bring on the hungry!
When breakfast is at 10, and dinner is at 7, you need something in between to keep you vertical. After all, the wine was flowing along with the food, so our stomachs growled us into submission and we snack elegantly on a simple apple, celery and walnut salad with lemon herb dressing. It was served with quintessential southern deviled eggs featuring sweet pickle relish and peppadew peppers. Delish!
I'm not sure how we segued, but our plan to go out to dinner Friday evening was quickly voted down. Maybe the desire to eat in started with the first bite of chutney the night before. Perhaps it was the citrus on the roasted carrots at brunch. In any case, the unanimous cry was for me to cook again, and we would cancel our reservations at the swanky eatery 20 minutes away opting instead to gather all 11 of us around our little lake table.
I love a 180 degree shift in food planning. It is my favorite thing to create a meal on the fly. Taking stock of our food inventory for the weekend, which included a few stand-by items, I knew I could put together our feast that night with just a few extra groceries. So after heading to the local market, I purchased some lovely ground turkey, and the ladies bought a few more bottles of wine, along with a bag of perfect Yukon potatoes. Nada decided she would make her famous crepes for dessert, and we were all salivating by the time the first appetizer was served.
By adding orange slices, a bit of balsamic, and some honey to bottled fig jam, I created a glaze for the flavorful Mediterranean turkey meatballs. Adding golden raisins to the meat insured moisture, and a last minute thought to bind the orbs with rice cracker dust since we couldn't find bread crumbs was inspired. We slow simmered onion and potatoes as our side dish.
Then, while it was simmering, I was summoned to the dining room. It was there I would experience the biggest surprise in a long time. I was presented with an apron, signed by all, as a thank-you for nourishing them during our trip. I was so honored, so caught off guard, so danged excited! Ladies, we all know it. Nothing is stronger than a tribe of true friends!
You know me. You know that while I was crying one eye out, I also had the other on the stove. I couldn't burn the meal served on the heels of my honorary apron ceremony! And since all had pitched in while I blubbered, dinner was a success!
Wait, it's now day three and it is only Saturday! WOOHOO! More chances to cook, to nosh, and to make memories. I would make my famous scones along with fresh fruit, cook some sausage, and we would gorge like we hadn't eaten in days. (Or hours!) Good cinnamon, golden raisins, and just the right touch produced these prized scones. All I could think to say was, "tah, dah!!!
Do you feel you've gained 10 pounds just reading this blog entry? Well, don't stop now. Just loosen your waistband and keep reading. There's more to come.
After a trip to Three Oaks, MI for Bourbon tasting and shopping, we settled into our last night of food. Since we felt stuffed, I decided on a meal that represented our affliction by serving spinach and artichoke stuffed chicken breasts, and a colorful side of brandy roasted root vegetables.
Using some of the leftover sausage, and lightening the stuffing by adding a little yogurt instead of all mayonnaise, a simple meal became exquisite. I've long used spirits to help create a depth of flavor with roasted vegetables. If you don't like the taste, I suggest you try a little maple syrup and lemon zest with the oil and salt and pepper. Toss, spread out on a baking dish, and let them become jewels of perfection!
As approach the end of this food journey, we close with a satisfying frittata, served with beautifully ripe fresh fruit and some of the remaining scones. Simple, flavorful, and celebratory. An apt closing for a culinary week that will long be remembered.
Thank you ladies for your honesty, your willingness to be sous chefs, for keeping my wine glass full at all times, and for letting me bind our memories to nourishment and love.
Over and out. Kitchen empty. Hearts full!
I don't pretend to say that good food makes everything better. We know that's not true. But, I also don't pretend to say it can't. Good food does amazing things. It lifts the soul and the body, it brings people together who otherwise would have been unable to communicate with words, it is creative to a point of consciousness, it is comforting, personal, unique, it provides nourishment so we can be clear headed and sharp minded... And it can be a common ground when we're all searching for one; when we are sorry and want to heal. That's what good food CAN do.
Can you not feel happier just looking at something pretty like this? I submit, on the day after this historic election, where so many passionately declare we are more divided than ever (which would be naive considering it has happened so MANY times before in our history and that it is the human condition to often invite chaos), that we MUST find a way to let things progress as they will and let the control rest within us. And we must do what we can, in our own hearts and minds to preserve humanity. We must not fight jealousy with corruption, ignorance with piety, greed with violence, or disagreement with cruelty.
I have spoken my peace. And I shall pray that we do not use this to sever friendships, families, progress, hope or courage. (Trust me. The people you love may think a lot of things you would never believe.) Just be a friend. It's our only path to peace. NOTHING is set in stone, unless you want it to be.
NOW LET'S EAT.
RECIPE: Artichoke, Spinach and Thyme Stuffed Chicken
Serves 6-8 / Click here for printable version
4 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
3 oz full fat cream cheese
1/3 C chopped cooked spinach drained of all moisture
¼ C white onion chopped
1/3 C grated sharp English cheddar
3 large artichoke hearts, from can, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
¼ t fresh nutmeg
¼ t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 t fresh thyme
2 T olive oil
Handful fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish
Combine softened cream cheese, artichoke hearts that have been squeezed to get most of the moisture out, the very, very well drained and squeezed spinach, the cheese, garlic, onion, nutmeg, salt, pepper and thyme in a bowl and stir well. Set aside.
Using a mallet, pound out each half breast until very thin and about 6 inches long. Pat dry.
To assemble, lay out a breast (Paillard) and spread with the artichoke/spinach mixture thickly, dividing the entire mixture evenly among the chicken. Roll the breast up, tuck the end side down and place side by side in a small baking dish with 1 T oil on the bottom. Add a little salt and pepper to the top and the rest of the oil. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 15 minutes or just until chicken is done. Do not bake too long!
I served it with butternut squash and green beans.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.