Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do You Like It?

I was browsing the Yahoo home page when I came across an article about macaroni and cheese.  Maybe you saw it, too?  It gave a link to the recipe for what is considered to be the World's Best Mac and Cheese and listed tips for perfecting it in your own kitchen.  I had hoped to find a few reviews of the recipe, but the comments following the article were full of personal mac and cheese recipes and a lot of opinions on what makes the perfect macaroni and cheese.

I find this all very interesting because macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods.  The best I've ever had (sorry, Mom) is the macaroni and cheese served at the Frankenmuth Brewery in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  From their menu: "Our house recipe four-cheese blend atop bowtie noodles sprinkled with bread crumbs, butter, parmesan and parsley."  It's truly cheesy heaven on a plate, with just the right amount of crispiness on top.

When I was a kid, my mom made really great macaroni and cheese for dinner every once in a while.  She would put it in the oven to brown the top a little bit, but she never put any sort of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs on to make a crunchy crust.  That's probably why I prefer mac and cheese without too much crunch added.  In my mind, it supposed to be a primarily creamy dish.

As much as I like to make dishes from scratch, I've never found a really great recipe for macaroni and cheese other than my mom's.  I've tried dozens of them, but they always seem to be too dry and grainy or the cheese separates or the taste is just not quite what I'm looking for.  The addition of mustard doesn't do much for me, either.  A few online friends recommended I try one that contains cottage cheese, but that sounds awfully lumpy to me.  For me, the perfect macaroni and cheese should have a sharp/tangy sauce so smooth and creamy that it is almost (but not quite) runny.  It should not clump together as you spoon it out of the serving dish.  The top can have a lightly browned, thin bit of crisp coating, but it shouldn't have a thick crust.

How about you?  What is your perfect mac and cheese?  Do you make it from scratch or you do you covet the blue box?  


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oh, September!

I don't know about you, but I find September to be one of the most difficult months of the year.  Most of it has to do with getting in the groove of a new school schedule after three months of summer slacking, but it has a lot to do with the changing weather, too.  It's a month of many transitions.

Last year, our school district decided to push the start time of the elementary school and middle school up by an hour.  I really hated it because school also got out an hour later.  Too late, in my opinion.  On a more positive note, my daughter had an extra hour to get ready in the morning and there was less traffic for our drive to school.  This year, we're back to the original start time.  I prefer it, but mornings are rushed and the traffic is so much worse.

I'm also making a transition with a new SUV.  It's used, actually, but it's new to me and I'm still figuring out where everything is and how it all works.  One day last week, on the way home from driving my daughter to school, I pushed the wrong button on the radio and couldn't find my preset radio stations.  I didn't want to take my eyes off the road for long, so I was stuck listening to this:

"Stuck" may not be technically accurate since I turned it up and sang along.....  The next day, when it was raining, it was less fun to realize that I didn't know where the control for the rear window wiper was.  I know how stupid that sounds, but it's in a different location than it was in my last SUV.

September weather has been quite a transition this year, too.  Early in the month, it was warm enough that we were still able to swim in our pool.  Since then, the temperature has gone up and down considerably.  One day I have the windows open, the next I have the heat on in the morning and the air conditioning on in the afternoon.  The humidity has also been a joy.  This morning, it was 67 degrees with 95% humidity.  Every horizontal and semi-horizontal surface outside was covered with moisture.  It took forever to defog the windshield (once I found the correct button).

Oh, September, is there any way I could bribe you to bring back August?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Bringing Back An Old Favorite

Our little town had its annual festival this weekend.  As I've mentioned before, we're not huge fans of the festivities.  Blame it on the number of times we've had to clean our yard of beer cans, plastic cups, liquor bottles and other assorted garbage.  We won't even discuss the year a bus load of partiers decided to relieve themselves in our shrubs. 

Instead of hanging around the house and watching people scramble for parking spots along the street, we decided to bring back an old favorite (which you may remember from a previous post), the Cheap Thrills Road Trip.

For this trip, we wanted to revisit a place we've enjoyed in the past, Harbor Beach, Michigan.  The drive to Harbor Beach takes you through beautiful little beach towns and along the Lake Huron shoreline.

As we passed through Forester, we stopped, once again, to pay our respects to the grave of Minnie Quay (more info. on the legend of Minnie Quay can be found here).  We brought along a small seashell to place on top of her headstone.

It was surprising to see how many trinkets had been left by previous visitors.  It's obvious that the story of a young girl's suicide and unsettled spirit touches many people in some strange and amazing way.  May she rest in peace.

We strayed from the original Cheap Thrills Road Trip Challenge a bit this time.  Instead of bringing a picnic lunch, we decided to use our budget on a late lunch/early dinner.  The town of Harbor Beach has a number of restaurants to choose from, but we wanted something we could take to the waterside park, so we ordered sandwiches from Ernesto's Pizzeria.

While our sandwiches were prepared, we walked next door to McNally's Antique Shop.  This is a fabulous place.  Years ago, it was a grocery store and it still retains the original walk-in refrigerator and freezer (though neither are kept cold anymore) with their huge, thick doors.  They serve as mini display rooms and are full of merchandise.  The shop owner, Richard, is super knowledgeable and friendly.  If you should have the pleasure of dropping into McNally's, be sure to say hi to Richard and tell him Willoughby sent you!

After we picked up our sandwiches, we headed over to Bathing Beach Park at the Trescott Street Pier to eat.  The seagulls were out in full force, so we opted for a picnic table under the pavilion.  It was a gorgeous day and we had a beautiful view of the water.

When lunch/dinner was finished and we had enjoyed the park and the scenery, we jumped back into our truck and headed south to White Rock.  There is a roadside park where you can take a nature walk.  Although it's difficult to see in the picture, the goldenrod were covered with butterflies.  I was lucky enough to have one land on my arm, but only for a moment.

To the left of the nature walk there is a viewing area where you can see "White Rock".  It has a unique and interesting history.  At one time, it marked the boundary between Native American land and the territory that was ceded to Michigan.  During WWII, the US Air Force used the rock for target practice.

Beyond the viewing area are stairs leading down to the water.  There is a small stretch of beach, though I don't think it's used much for swimming and sunbathing.

Mr. Willoughby hopped across the rocks to a large, stony ledge a few feet from shore.....

while our daughter sat on an old, fallen tree to admire the view.....

and I wrote a message in the sand so other visitors would know we had been there.

It was nearing dusk when we decided to head back home.  If you live in a rural area, you know that dusk is an active time for deer.  We had an incredibly close call with a young doe who ran out in the road in front of us.  Mr. Willoughby didn't notice her approaching until I screamed.  Had he hit the brakes a fraction of a second later, I would have a very different story to tell.

Back in our own small town, we had to stop to let something else cross the road....

before we could get home.

Once again, we had a great time and felt like we were on vacation for the entire day.  In case you're wondering how this measured up to my Cheap Thrills rules, we used less than one tank of gas, were home before nightfall and with the cost of our food and drinks, spent a total of $18.  We have no regrets that we decided to take a road trip and skip the local festival.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's All Fun Until Someone Gets Arrested

Every year, over Labor Day weekend, a big festival takes place not far from here.  It's a huge event, spread out over more than 15 city blocks.  It's based on art, music and food so there is plenty of each to enjoy.  We've been to this festival in the past, before it was relocated to a different city.

In the old location, there was no admission fee and no specified entrances.  You would pay five bucks to park in a local church lot, walk a few blocks and enter the festival from any point in the city.  You could bring your own refreshments or buy them at one of nearly a hundred booths.  The main stage, where all the well known bands played, was in a state of the art arena with seating for 3000.

Now, in the new location, parking is fifteen dollars, there is a three dollar per person admission fee (it goes to charity, I don't have an issue with the cost) and you have to enter at one of several gated entrances.  You stand in line, pay and then submit to a search of your belongings to make sure you're not bringing in any food or beverages.  If you do have, say, a bottle of water, candy bar or piece of fruit in your possession, you must surrender it.  The family in front of us had every nook and cranny of their baby's stroller and diaper bag searched for such contraband.

We attended the festival specifically to see one of our favorite bands perform.  After walking a few blocks, we found the main concert stage where the big name bands were scheduled to play.  In stark contrast to the arena we were expecting, we found a fairly small stage set up in a parking lot.  The only seating available was fenced off.  It was VIP only, for winners of a local radio station contest.  The rest of the audience had only standing room.

It was an overcast day, not hot, but damp.  The humidity was nearly 80% and you could feel every bit of it when sandwiched in between a few hundred other spectators.  We were there early enough to get pretty close to the front.  We had our daughter with us and she's not quite five feet tall, so we positioned ourselves where she could see the stage by looking between other people.  But just before the show started, a man and his wife pushed through the crowd (nearly knocking over a disabled man) and positioned themselves directly in front of us.  They could see that they were blocking our daughter's view, but they didn't seem to care.  I remarked how rude they were and got no response.  By moving a few steps to our right, we managed to get a little bit better view.  Unfortunately, it also put us in direct line with the dancing woman who was spilling beer everywhere.

Things continued to get worse.  The stage was located about 40 feet away from the railroad tracks.  During the show, three trains came through, blaring their horns and nearly drowning out the concert.  The blockhead and his wife who had obstructed our view kept backing into us and the dancing drunk woman started staring at my daughter and me.  A woman to my left was filming the concert with her phone which she positioned directly in front of my face and her friend continuously flipped her hair in my daughter's face.

We did our best to enjoy ourselves.  The band was great, and once the breeze started blowing, it didn't seem as damp and sticky.  But the people around us were sucking all the fun out it.  It was beyond irritating and way past annoying.  I just couldn't take it anymore so I looked over at Mr. Willoughby and mouthed the words "domino effect".  He nodded and we set our plan into action.  I gave him a big shove which sent him directly into the back of the blockhead.  Blockhead then flew face first into the fence that sectioned off the VIP section.

The band stopped playing because of the commotion.  It was quiet enough for dancing drunk woman to hear me when I asked "What is your problem?".  She threw her beer to the ground and responded "You want a piece of me?", to which I replied "Bring it."  Everything happened pretty fast after that.  I'm not sure who threw the first punch, but we went at it for a good three or four minutes before some people pulled us apart.  Mr. W was protecting our daughter during the scuffle, but when someone suggested he "control his psycho wife", he started swinging.  Other fights were breaking out all through the audience.  It had become a riot.

By the time the police arrived, the band had left the stage all together.  A dozen or so people, myself and Mr. W included, were arrested and taken away in handcuffs.  Our daughter was held in protective custody until my parents arrived to pick her up.

And that's when I snapped out of my daydream.  We didn't start the domino effect and we didn't push or punch anyone.  As badly as I wanted to lose my cool and hit a few people, the prospect of being arrested made it less appealing.  In reality, we sang and danced and enjoyed the show as best we could, despite train whistles and rude spectators.  No handcuffs were involved and our daughter went home with us.

Will we attend the festival again next year?  I'll get back to you.