Monday, August 25, 2014

Mead Tasting to Support Pagan Pathways Temple

Image taken from Pagan
Pathways Temple website.
Last Saturday, Greg and I got cleaned up and shiny and headed to Off the Beaten Path Books & Emporium, a steampunk bookshop in downtown Farmington, to partake in a mead tasting fundraiser for Pagan Pathways Temple. It was possibly the tastiest fundraiser I have ever attended. And it was nice to be able to wander freely through Off the Beaten Path. The last time we were there, our first time to this new location, was for another fundraiser for Pagan Pathways and the rooms were quite crowded with silent auction tables and people mingling. 

There were three tables of mead set up in the back room and a table of food. Since we had just eaten dinner, we opted for just the mead, and what a wonderful dessert it was. Two people highly recommended a particular mixed berry mead, so I went with that one first. It was, indeed, quite delicious, and I do not doubt I could do a significant amount of damage to an entire bottle. At the same table was possibly my favorite mead in the room. This really surprised me as the flavor was lemon orange, and I don't generally enjoy citrus fruits. 

Another table had mead made by an older couple who were really fun to talk to. Their first offering was root beer! Yes, root beer mead. It was fantastic. Most of their flavors were different from the usual, which the gentleman told us he preferred to make. Of course, there are classics like cranberry or blueberry, but damiana flower? It was extremely earthy and floral, and refreshing because it wasn't lavender. I like lavenders all right, they've just been done to death in both flavoring and scent. 

The last table had a number of different meads from various locations, including two from B. Nektar Meadery, creators of a personal favorite cherry carbonated mead Zombie Killer. There was actually a bottle of Zombie Killer at the table, and I had to have some, reiterating to me that Zombie Killer is best consumed from the tap, though out of the bottle isn't a terrible option should a keg not be readily available. There was also a bottle of Camelot Mead Honey Wine from Oliver Winery and Vineyards of Bloomington, Indiana. The taste was sweet, smooth, and very drinkable. 

I am hoping that some of these delightful combinations has inspired Greg. He brewed some mead for us this year, but it's a little tart for me at the moment. I've only tried one other mead made by Greg, and it was a very sweet and tasty blueberry and pomegranate. Mmm! I wish I had some right now in a glass of ice. 

If you've never tried mead, do so. A lot of winery are now also brewing mead, which is also sometimes referred to as honey wine. I like mead because it lacks tannins. I don't like tannins very much, and I usually like carbonation even less, which is a large part of why I can't drink much beer. The bitterness of beer also makes it icky to me. Mead and I, though, are very good friends. 

Excuse me while I go stock my fridge. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bobbing Around Berrien County

Not farm from Kalamazoo, where I grew up, is Berrien County, the extreme southwest corner of Michigan with a population of 156,813 as of the 2010 census. Yes, that's for the entire county. There aren't a lot of people in Berrien, which leaves plenty of room for grapes - and hops! Berrien is home to almost a dozen wineries with plans for more to open in the future. (The market is ripe.)

As Greg and I headed west on I-94 to enjoy these wineries as well as award-winning Silver Beach in the county seat of St. Joseph (better known as St. Joe), we made a couple of roadside pit stops. The first was to a cute little place called the Chocolate Garden. After the third billboard, we had to stop. The prices were acceptable and the truffles were delicious. I understand why they have been praised by places as diverse as the Food Network, Travel Channel, and Elle Magazine. The best part? I can order online.

On our way to the Chocolate Garden, we passed the rather bizarre Dinosaur Farm attached to Grandpa's Cider Mill. Naturally, we had to stop and take photos. It turns out the skeletal dinos were made by the local high school's tech class. Really neat! We would later encounter smaller specimens in the shops of St. Joe that were for sale. 

We couldn't afford any dinosaur souvenirs, but we did stop into the Cider Mill to get some drinks. I wish I had read the ingredients lists before purchasing. Though tasty, our ciders turned out to be mostly corn syrup. BIG LET DOWN. I expect more from a Michigan cider mill. Like for the cider to be made from apples, which we grow a ton of,  for instance. Granted, mine was cherry flavored, but guess what, Michigan also grows a ton of cherries. (And blueberries. And peaches.) No excuse not to use real fruit. None.

Next we stopped in Benton Harbor (St. Joe's twin city) to check out something called Skellville that Greg read about in Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. Odd, indeed! You would never guess this place was there from the road. Do you know those weird roadside stores with all the garden statuary scattered around, mostly of a decidedly religious nature? (Don't blink.) Skellville, which is populated with plastic skeletons posted in various scenes, as if frozen forever in the moments following some horrible disaster (I've been to Pompeii; I now what it looks like), is located behind one of those. The building looks like a mechanic's shop, and it still might be used for that purpose, I have no idea, there just happened to also be hundreds of statues everywhere. And a mounted dinosaur head. Like you do.

We paid a dollar each to poke around Skellville. The incredibly enthusiastic owner - he really was a nice guy - told us that he had built Skellville originally as a Halloween attraction, and is now keeping it up year round, hoping to attract tourists from all over the world. He encouraged us to tell our friends, write about it, and take pictures. I took many, many pictures. 

The man also apologized that he hadn't mowed in a while, so it was a little overgrown. Luckily, we had a helpful marmalade guide to show us they way! And all it wanted in return was belly rubs and ear skritches. To my friends in the area, I say visit Skellville on Halloween. It'll probably be better done up, and you'll be in just the right mood. (Greg and I live Halloween every day of the year.) 

Greg and I made our first winery stop Tabor Hill, beloved of Bob Hope, as it turns out, for many decades. He actually had boxes shipped to his home in California for parties and sent the winery a Christmas card every year until his death. Greg and I learned this on the free tour Tabor Hill offers. We were the only ones on the tour, which is a shame because we both found it very interesting! When a winery offers you a free tour, take it. Seriously.

We indulged in a tasting, but ended up not buying any wine from Tabor Hill. Instead, we headed to our next destination, the Round Barn, which we had passed on our way to Tabor Hill. The Round Barn is a winery, distillery, and brewery. We did another tasting here and bought a bottle of the Edel Doux, a "nobly sweet" blend of German varietals with a rich lingering finish," and the DiVine Black Walnut Creme, which tastes a little of honey or maple and is a bit nutty. An excellent substitute for Irish Cream in many recipes! I've just been mixing it with milk and sipping it over ice. (Greg skips the addition of milk.)

After all that drinking, we were ready for lunch and drove over to village of Baroda and the Round Barn Public House where I had a very alcoholic root beer float with my deliciously amazing Ultimate Phillie French Dip. Greg ordered a regular French Dip and a beer called Escaped Goat because goat. The 5 Cheese Garlic Bread with Marinara was freaking awesome, too. 

From there we went to St. Joe and met up with a great friend of mine I've known since I was ten, Robin, who now lives in the area. I am sad I don't get to see her more often, but it's quite a drive from the suburbs of Detroit. (Maybe I can see my friends more once they put in that highspeed rail line?) We wandered down to the beach, around downtown St. Joe, and dined at a Chinese restaurant (about the only place that wasn't super crowded) which satisfied my often recurring craving for Chinese food.

We parted with Robin who had to get some work done and then met up with my friend John who was another of my best friends in high school. We also went to Western Michigan University together and have stayed good friends ever since. He was recently married and, again due to the distance, I had not had the chance to really meet his wife, who turned out to be a really cool lady who also likes to cook. They brought homemade snacks and we settled on the beach to watch the sun set over (or into) Lake Michigan. One of the things I miss most about West Michigan is the Lake, especially its sunsets, so this was quite a special moment for me. Who knows when I will see one again? (Come on, highspeed rail!)

When dark had descended, we bid our goodbyes and headed back to Kalamazoo to rest up before returning home the next day. I wish I could have stayed longer and visited with more friends, but it just wasn't possible that week. In September, we'll be headed up north and to the UP on a longer vacation. I hope this means I will finally get my Fall Color Tour! (Another thing I've been missing.)

Happy travels, everyone. Any many beautiful sunsets.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

I have only been to Meijer Gardens a few times in my life, despite growing up within an hour's drive. Grand Rapids always seemed so far from Kalamazoo. It feels a lot closer when other people do the driving, or when one is on vacation. The last time I was there, I was still in high school, placing the visit still in the 20th century! I was very happy to return with my boyfriend Greg a couple of weeks ago. We often go to conservatories on our vacations and Greg takes tons of pictures. I am very happy to be with someone who enjoys flowers as much as I do. (I get it from my father, who was a master gardener.) 

Much of the sculpture had changed and grown. I have to say, the Meijers have interesting taste in art. There are a lot of really creepy sculptures lying around. Really. Really. Creepy. An oversized disembodied head lying on a slab, bound to a book with its eyes covered, for instance. Or the horrific spider creature with a skull for a body straight out of nightmares I didn't know I had. The two walking creatures with no heads. The ginormous silver "neuron" that looks like an alien creature just landed, ready to invade the planet. The list could go on, but I am trying to forget them.

There are some perfectly non-threatening sculptures as well, like the giant spade stuck in the earth, the cartoonish "angry mom," gigantic horse, and farm animals. Yes, preserved at Meijer Gardens, as if frozen in time is an old farm house, garden, yard, and barn. The garden isn't actually frozen. That's alive, thriving, and beautiful. Everything else, though... Ok, maybe that's a little creepy, too. But it did remind me of my great aunt and uncle's farm they had when I was little. I have fond memories of picking strawberries with my Aunt Louise in her garden between the house and barn. They didn't have animals by the time I came along, but the feel of the old farm life was still there, and the farm garden at Meijer Gardens does an excellent job of capturing it, too.

Meijer Gardens is actually known for the giant horse, also called Leonardo's horse (as in Leonardo da Vinci). The last time I was there was specifically to see the horse. I also saw the butterflies in the Tropical Conservatory, "the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition in the nation," another major attraction that make the Gardens famous. Unfortunately, that only goes on during March and April, so Greg and I did not get to see the butterflies on our trip.

We did get to see plenty of birds, ducks, swans, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and probably other animals that I am forgetting as we walked the grounds and the wooden walkway that runs along the marshland. The turtles were probably my favorite. Some of my first pets were turtles, so they will always have a special place in my heart. (We kept them on our deck in a big metal washtub for the summer and released them back into the creek in the Fall.)

Between the conservatories, sculpture parks, and nature trails, one can easily spend an entire day at Meijer Gardens! There is a special children's garden with a number of interactive exhibits that I wish I could have played on. There was a singalong of some kind going on, too, while we were there. It turns out that the Gardens also hosts musical acts in their outside amphitheater. No one I knew was playing that day, but the Barenaked Ladies, Nickel Creek, the Moody Blues, and Sheryl Crow were among those listed on the sign for that season. 

I don't think I will ever make it back for a show, but I do hope to see the butterflies again! Maybe next year.

*All photographs taken by Greg or myself, but mostly Greg.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Live: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Gogol Bordello

Ever since I started dating Greg, I have been attending a ton more live music shows than ever in my life. I love music. I also like seeing bands perform live. I just haven't often had friends who enjoyed going to live shows or we/I were too poor to obtain tickets. Thus most of my live performance experiences were seeing my awesomely talented friend Dale Wicks perform in nearby bars and coffee shops when there were no tickets required for entry or mine was comped. (You rock, Dale!)

So when it was announced that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were going to be performing at the (purportedly haunted) Masonic Temple in Detroit, Greg bought us tickets. This required me getting a night off of work, and it was totally worth it. My brother has always been a big Nick Cave fan, and when I shared a room with my friend Sherelle in California, we often fell asleep listening to, among other songs, "Red Right Hand." (I've also danced to that song countless times at various goth clubs because duh.) I can't say I'm a Nick Cave fan exactly, but I like him, I like what I have heard of his music, his voice is beautifully rich and deep, and Greg was stupid excited about seeing him live, this being one of his "bucket list bands." (Greg is now like two concerts away from dying happy.) 

Nick Cave is not a bad looking guy, though I am not a fan of his hair for most of his life. But the way he moves on stage is totally sexy. Greg says sinister. I don't know if this was done on purpose (I'm going to look at all future concerts to see if the same happens at them), but the lights cast an uninterrupted shadow of Nick Cave, and occasionally Warren Ellis, onto the side wall of the closed theater boxes that looked like a creepy prancing skeleton. It was awesome!! 

Nick Cave likes to hop around a lot on stage, and was always urging fans forward to put their hands up in the air to touch. He also spent about half of the concert out amongst the audience where fans were encouraged to put their hands on him. At one point he realized his fly was down and asked "How long has it been like that?" Whether it was the pants' doing or a grabby audience member's, who can say? So if you get a chance to see Nick Cave live yourself, spring for the pricey front and center seats for a chance to feel him up. (I'm mostly jesting here. I think it's cool when performers make contact with their admirers, and as far as I could see everyone was respectful.)

I don't have any pictures of this concert both because it was too dark for my phone and we were asked (and occasionally heckled by Nick Cave) to not take pictures or video. I wish I could have gotten one shot, though. I don't remember for which song it was, but during one segment Nick waved at people to raise their hands and come forward while most of the rest of the audience simply raised their hands to him, palm out, elbow relaxed. I felt eerily as if I had been transported to some Christian Fundamentalist healing service, only dark and somewhat sinister. "This is what the Fundies are afraid of," I thought to myself in a moment of lightening bolt clarity. It was creepy. 

Obviously, the concert was f*cking awesome. Nick Cave puts on an amazing show, and I enjoyed watching Warren Ellis whale on his violin, throw the bow high over his shoulder, and the roadie run after it more times than I could begin to keep track of. (His shadow-skeleton in these moments was mesmerizing.) I did not see any actual ghosts at the Masonic, though. I don't think. Maybe we were in the wrong part.

P.S. The woman who opened for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was also enjoyable, even in her weird, bleached out 70s-style mumu. If you like Nick Cave, check out Nicole Atkins

The very next night, Greg and I drove out to Royal Oak to see Gogol Bordello perform. Gogol Bordello is an international "gypsy punk band." Some of their songs, to me, bordered on ska. And for your information, gypsy ska is f*cking awesome. The high energy of everything Gogol Bordello played (and their opening act Man Man) was almost exhausting to listen to, but so catchy and dancey that it was hard to stay still. The audience was all over the place, throwing beers in the air and across the room and running from one end of the theater to another like gerbils trapped in a cage without a wheel. 

Since I had never heard Gogol Bordello before, I spent the afternoon before the show listening to their music on their website. I was happy when they played a couple of the songs at the concert, and I was able to sing along to the chorus of "The Other Side of Rainbow." I've seen the other side of rainbow, it was black and white - it was black and white! (Dance break.) The way to freedom, the way to freedom that I used to know is in the deeper, is in the deeper knowing of my soul.

Gogol Bordello is obviously quite different from Nick Cave. Two bands, two nights, two totally different energies. That's how we roll. Evidently, so do a lot of other people because we recognized a lot of faces in the crowd in Royal Oak from Detroit, and one guy asked if we'd been at the Masonic for Nick Cave  (so had he) because Greg was wearing the Nick Cave shirt he'd bought the night before. Rock on!