Adding Black to the Mac
By Ken De Laat
Photos by Nicholas De Laat
My grandkids have always loved the macaroni and cheese their mother makes from a process gleaned from her mother. It is one of those signature dishes that people always ask you to bring if they’re having a pot-luck.(“Who can bring a salad? How about dessert? Candice, we have you down for your Mac & Cheese ok?).
Yeah, that dish.
So during their visit last month I thought I’d find a recipe and whip up some M&C for them.
Only to discover that apparently when making Macaroni and Cheese it’s not enough to toss in the noodles, cheese, bread crumbs, some butter and a few sprinkles of paprika.
To offer some reference to the story, my grands and I have the kind of relationship that allows for honesty, even brutal honesty, without apology because we can be assured our interactions are never ill-intended and not to be taken personally. With the trio of sibs having a caucasian Dad and an African American Mom discussions sometimes veer into issues around race. Some are serious... some not so much.
In the aftermath of the meal there appeared to be a rather profound lack of enthusiasm for my attempt. Sensing the collective ‘meh’ around the table I offered up an opportunity for each to grade my efforts. Without pause my trio of loving, yet as I said epically honest, progeny replied thusly..
“C+” said Izzabella, though she may have been being extra kind due to my providing access to her beloved “Twilight” flicks all week.
“D,” said Quintan, the eldest of the threesome.
He laughed then added, “And that’s being generous, Papa. That was by far the Whitest Mac & Cheese I’ve ever had,”
“White as in color or as in race?” I asked.
“Race. No Black table would have that on it. It needs garlic and the cheese needs to be prepared beforehand and poured over, not shredded and mixed in between.”
With the seal broken Izza chimed in, “There was too much milk and not enough spices or flavoring. And way too many breadcrumbs.”
And both agreed there was not nearly enough cheese.
And neither had ever heard of breadcrumbs being part of the dish.
Parker, the youngest and perhaps the least discriminating of the three when it comes to gastronomic pursuits, remained silent.
Mostly because he was still eating.
I recall thinking, “Love that boy.”
However, when finished he concurred with his sibs as to the quality of the offering despite the three helpings.
I took in the feedback and vowed to ensure the recipe used would never again be accessed and, like all of our conversations, the topic moved on to other spheres of interest and the M&C review was forgotten.
Except by me.
A couple weeks later we traveled to their Beaver Island home and at an opportune time I approached Ms. Izza.
“If we go to the store and get the stuff, will you walk me through how to make the Mac & Cheese? You know, so it doesn’t come out so white?”
She agreed, cautioning me that while the process is an in-family thing I might qualify so long as all secrets went unshared.
I agreed and we made plans for Sunday.
I can’t go into all the details (the consequences mentioned in the oath I took were fairly frightening) but I can clearly tell you that the procedure Izzabella guided me through was eye-opening and I was impressed by her ability to cull from the culinary artistry of her mother and grandmother.
Mealtime came and I proudly placed the dish on the table with an approving eye from my mentor.
The reviews were good. There were some tweaks I missed but most around the table felt it more than met the standards approval.
“And how do you like it Papa?” I was asked.
And while I was in foodie heaven having discovered I could create such a thing I just could not resist…
“Well, it might be a little too Black, but…”
“If you can read you can cook, if you can season you can delight.”-Nanette L. Avery
By Ken De Laat
"Well, I hope you understand, I just had to go back to the island”- Leon Russell song
I’m taking a guess many of you reading this haven’t been there.
Maybe you’ve thought about it, maybe you heard someone talk about it, maybe you read something about it...
But you haven’t pulled the trigger and made the effort to get there.
I had always wondered about BI but until our son, daughter in law and 3 of our grandchildren (have I ever mentioned their high level of intelligence, good looks and all around likeability?) moved there about 4 years ago, we had never set foot there.
Since then LSC Lil and I have landed on the Emerald Isle (Michigan version) dozens of times.
And each has been a welcome respite from what Islanders call “The Mainland”
What is it about BI?
First of all it's not Mackinac Island.
Not by a long shot.
And with apologies to the Somewhere in Time-loving visitors to the uber-popular little isle in Lake Huron, the vibe on BI seems far more suited to my personal tastes.
The downtown area has nary a fudge shop. If, like many days, the gift store near the boat docks isn’t open you can get t- shirts and BI bling at the hardware store. Ice cream can be scored at a little shop near to the boat docks, there’s a couple of bars (one with eats) near the docks, a community center to pick up info on the island and it’s a half mile walk to the grocery store and the coffee shop.
Yes, THE grocery store and THE coffee shop
No it’s not Mackinac.
And again, for those of us who prefer a genuine slice of Up North living without the obligatory tourist trappings it is a healthy helping of heaven.
This is a working island. While a gaggle or two of tourists walk about exploring the area, the residents are going about their business. The action downtown gets a boost whenever the ferry boat arrives, dropping off regular visitors, summer residents, and curious first timers but generally there is a steady, yet unhurried cadence to the island scene.
There is a bit of magic to the largest of this Lake Michigan archipelago that includes more than a dozen islands. It ranks high in biological diversity with Great Lakes dunes, marshes, bogs, fens, coniferous swamps, northern coniferous forests and mixed hardwood forests. There are trails and pathways that allow for island exploration. . There is a rich and and intriguing history that deserves a separate article in itself, including a King whose namesake is on a private lodge across from the yacht club.
Breakfast with a View
Our favorite mornings begin with a 3 mile trek to the lighthouse and back with a stopover on the deck of Dalwhinnie’s where a varied menu, good coffee and ample selection of enticing baked goods provide a welcome reward to the pedestrian efforts. The view makes it an easy linger and while there you’ll see (and hear) a mixture of tourists and islanders, with the tourists talking about the BI discoveries they’ve made and locals focused on the latest island news. The fishing guides and their clients load up on the Deli’s sumptuous sandwiches after their breakfast and before heading out on the water for the long (and hopefully productive) day ahead.
We like the food and the atmosphere at the Shamrock located in the heart of ‘downtown’ . They have a pleasant outside seating area and occasionally bring in music, always a bonus.
The Circle M, located on the way to one of the airports and abutting a large cemetery, is a must whenever we visit. The dining experience runs the gamut from really good to exceptional on most occasions, there is a more than adequate beer and wine selection and a number of intriguing cocktails are offered as well
Beyond that there is Daddy Frank’s just a short walk around the block from the boat and serving up ice cream treats along with burgers, hot dogs, baskets, sandwiches and such.
Unless you’re planning on running over there in your own boat or landing your personal aircraft there are two ways of getting to BI. The ferry boat and the planes .
Initially Lil and I took the boat, however the difference between a 2 hour ride across Lake Mich and a 20 minute flight over the waves made Island Airways our preferred method of arrival and departure. Of course the boat drops you downtown and the airports (2) are more than a bit of a hike from anywhere so if you are flying over on a whim you likely want to make arrangements to get from landing strip to town.
Side note: We have rarely traveled by air when not accompanied by one or two dogs and each has been obviously well acquainted with air travel. Once there were 4 canines aboard and the Golden Retriever apparently thought he knew me as he proceed to put his chin on my shoulder and stare at me for most of the jaunt across water.
Birding Biking & Boodling
These are the three B’s of BI.
The island is home to some of the best birding opportunities to be found. N3 ‘Ask BirdGoober’ columnists Andrea and Terry Grabill accompany Fremont middle schoolers to the island each spring for field biology and geology experiences, a program that began in 1999.
Terry: “ Andrea and I have also had the pleasure of being field guides to Beaver Island Birding Trail's "Warblers on the. Water" festival for several years, During the festivals, in addition to leading field trips, we've also done presentations on "Getting Started in Birding" and "Improving Your Birding Skills".
“Beaver Island presents a unique opportunity for birders to explore diverse habitats in a relatively small area. The Beaver Island Birding Trail is designed to provide birders views of this diversity and most are accessible without strenuous hiking. On their website http://www.beaverislandbirdingtrail.org/ 35 sites are mapped with descriptions of likely species to find.”
On one of our first soirees over from Charlevoix via ferry boat Lil and I were accompanied by droves of bikers. No not the motorized Harley riding type but those for whom the act of pedaling is a pleasure.
And while the roads around the Island run short of pavement rather quickly, the dirt roads stay fairly smooth and easily navigable and the tree cover allows for cycling on warm days with an abundance of shade. Solo riders, couples and groups of a dozen or more can often be seen taking to the routes through and around the island.
Boodling is the third B. and to truly embrace the island experience one should not pass up the opportunity for a good boodle.
What is a Boodle you say?
Well, perhaps it can be best described as a tour of sorts. Or maybe kind of a mobile outdoor party, generally involving beer.
One can witness a pickup truck with a picnic table in the bed of the vehicle making its way around the island at speeds that allow them to be passed by the occasional bicyclist or power walker while revelers take in the scenery, engage in stimulating dialogue and sip the occasional beverage.
Sometimes boodlers might pass each other in opposite directions so an obligatory stop for a chat is not out of the question and must be tolerated with a measure of decorum by those waiting to ramble on.
Popular boodle stopovers include the wealth of beaches where sunsets are nothing short of magnificent. Donegal Bay alone provides some of the most stunning sundowns to be found and on clear days the sun seems to set off steaming shafts of colors as it disappears into a glowing Lake Mich.
Speaking of Island Cars
There are a couple of car rental places on the island. One has newer vehicles and the other gives you the experience of ‘island cars’. These are generally older vehicles...most times a lot older… that are used to get back and forth to desired sites but the Island is 13 miles long and some 6 miles wide in most spots so the need depends on your desired destinations.
When walking about or driving you’ll note each car passing by will signal an acknowledgement of your presence with a three or four finger wave from the steering wheel. These are not to be mistaken for the more well known one finger wave encountered frequently during urban rush hours or when folks at the four way stop in Fremont get impatient and testy.
When not bunking with the grands we stay at the Harbor View, a clean and friendly temp home with kitchenettes that are perfect for any length of stay. The friendliness and charm of Michelle who manages Harbor View makes the experience seamless. They have an outdoor pool, and an epic view of the harbor (hence the name one supposes).
There are a sprinkling of other places to stay including some vacation home rentals, and a couple other hotels. My niece and her family came up for our grandson’s graduation in June and rented a grand cabinesque abode that easily accommodated her tribe of 14.
It was also her first time on BI and, like so many others before her, she became captivated by the place, vowing to return.
And therein lies the key to this mid lake gem that Lil and I love. You either get it or you don’t. For some, BI lacks the old ‘things to do’ if those things involve tourist shops, well manicured historical sites, a bevy of eateries and fudge shops to choose from and maybe even a bit of nightlife.
For others this place fits perfectly. It’s quiet, the ‘things to do’ are more likely to involve exploring the island via hiking or biking, communing with its natural wonders, and taking advantage of its bountiful beaches. It is indeed a place to peel off a little stress, recalibrate one’s thoughts and gain a little well needed perspective.
The mantra echoed by every first timer who falls into the latter group is strikingly similar. You can almost see it in the wistful look in their eyes as they wait to board the boat back to Charlevoix.
“We’ll be back.”
“I wasn’t born on Beaver Island but I got here as quick as I could”- Bumper sticker seen on an ‘island car’.
Join our training to spot signs of suicide – and act to save lives
By Stephanie Kooistra, Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial
As a community health program specialist, I’m often in schools, churches and local organizations helping people address the health and wellness needs. In our communities, one issue that has become a top-of-mind concern for many families is the mental and emotional health of our loved ones.
And I’d like to invite everyone in our community to a first-of-its kind in-person training on Aug. 10 in Newaygo County that empowers people to intervene when a person is suicidal. This inaugural training session at NCRESA in Fremont is the first of additional sessions we plan to host in the near future, both in-person and virtually.
Mental and behavioral health and wellbeing are close to my heart, as it is to many people in our community. That’s why I recently worked to be certified as a trainer in a program called Question, Persuade, Refer, or QPR, a suicide prevention training program. Two of my colleagues, Erica Jordan and Jenn Kurnat, are also certified QPR trainers.
QPR is an emergency mental health intervention that teaches members of the public, professionals and just about anyone in the community to recognize and respond positively to someone showing warning signs of suicide and self-harm.
QPR is like CPR. With CPR, trained bystanders help save lives by addressing the first few critical steps: recognizing symptoms, deciding to act, starting CPR, and using an automated external defibrillator, or AED, if one is available.
Similarly, people who have gone through QPR training can recognize and respond to suicide warning signs, take immediate steps to reduce the risk of a suicide attempt and assure a referral to competent professional care.
Spectrum Health’s QPR trainings are for anyone looking to understand suicide, decrease stigma around suicide –and mental health, in general – and help and support anyone who may be having suicidal thoughts.
Through this training, you can better recognize suicidal thoughts and behaviors in others and what you can do to help save their life.
Gerber Memorial’s free in-person training is open to anyone in the community. The training is on Tuesday, Aug. 10, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The training will be held at NCRESA Educational Service Center, 4747 W 48th St Fremont, MI 49412.
To register, please call 231.924.3073 to register or email me at email@example.com.
You can register individually or as a group.
By Ken De Laat
I like zucchini as a food. I really do. Like it steamed, like it sauteed, like it in this tasty pasta dish LSC Lil is masterful at creating and even like the bread (particularly the chocolate version my soon to be daughter-in-law Abi makes).
But they can be too much of a good thing as any gardener who has underestimated their production prowess can attest. For many years I held the theory that if one left a window open in a parked car in early August for more than 7 minutes a grocery sack of zucchini would appear in the back seat.
Thus, when putting in this year's gardens we remained prudent in planting what is perhaps the most prolific member of the squash family.
Three plants. Far apart. And each was rather small having been started from seed and nurtured through the early spring weeks.
In mid July we were delighted when the first couple of nice sized beauties emerged.
The next day I spotted one well hidden and slyly camouflaged and it resembled a green whale. Two days later a group of emerald colored logs appeared out of nowhere. Since then they have been shooting out repeatedly in all sizes.
So zukes have been dominating the menu at N3 World Headquarters and Monarch Midwifery.
On Saturday Lil hollowed out a pair and created a stuffed log-like version with a splendid grouping of eclectic ingredients and we steamed some fresh from the garden green beans that survived the Rabbit Wars of Redwood Drive.
And it was Opening Day for sweet corn.
I had put off knocking down my first ear of the year. Being a huge aficionado I used to jump on it early if a batch arrived in a local venue from Indiana since their version is probably second to Michigan home grown.
Not a real close second, mind you, but second nonetheless.
But this year I wanted to wait. I wanted the first corn to be the right one.
And while my Michigan maize merchandisers are many I recalled scoring a sackful from Morrison Orchards around mid season last year and maintained fond memories of its role in the meal that followed.
So it was on to the Maple Island farm where I procured a dozen from the always affable John and Kathy Morrison while we chatted a bit about things that matter and I loaded up the cache of corn as well as a peck of peaches that arrived home short a couple since they looked really good and I was hungry.
But back to the corn.
For one who eschews the imitation variety that arrives all year from Florida or Cali scoring the first ears of the year brought more than a shade of excitement and while the hours waiting for dinner seemed to pass ploddingly the time finally arrived. While Lil was working her epicurean magic with the zukes et.al. I prepared a few ears and we retired to the deck to dine.
It was a bit on the young side which always has its own special flavor and when I sunk teeth into it the experience delivered that familiar yet new kind of vibe and hit my hypothalamus with authority.
It was sublime.
While recognizing that not all feel the same about the absolute royalty of bipeninsular agriculture, when it comes to the menu at N3WH&MM, corn will be making frequent appearances over the coming weeks
And leftovers (extra ears are prepared solely for this reason) will be serving as a straight from the fridge snack to be enjoyed at any time, a taste acquired from my late father who mentored me on the pleasures to be had from cold corn.
There are likely to be frequent forays to the Morrison farm in the coming weeks. But when this magical run of harvesting ends so will my indulgence.
Because while being frequently made aware of ways to freeze it and on occasion being advised by others that the Cali and Florida corn found off season is ‘not that bad’ …
My deep regard for sweet corn doesn’t allow for anything but the real deal.
“Sex is good but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”- Garrison Keillor
Letter to the Editor Policy
Near North Now welcomes original letters from readers on current topics of general interest. Simply fill out the form below. Letters submissions are limited to 300 words.