Sweet Corn Season

Sweet Corn Season

Boiling Sweet Corn
Boiling Sweet Corn

Something elemental in me knows fall is coming on, without looking at a calendar. A flock of robins hurried, heavy-breasted above me this evening. The ditch-side weeds are fluffy and dry—going to seed and taking to the winds, switching directions like winging dragonflies. I crave corn—sweet and salty.

Sweet corn season catches me up every year. I wait all eleven or so months for a handful of tantalizingly-temporary meals containing fresh sweet corn.

I eat popcorn multiple nights a week at all times of year, but there’s nothing like the summer’s first shut-eyed, yellow-crunch, sweet-buttery bite of corn on the cob.

Garden-veggie Panzanella Salad, Herbed Rice
Fresh Sweet Corn, Garden-veggie Panzanella Salad, Herbed Rice

Corn in many incarnations comes our way on a daily basis, but in forms far removed from the yellow maize harvested by early Americans hundreds of years ago. We don’t recognize it any more, it comes in so many shapes and varietals—yet our idea of “corn” is still deeply entrenched in an image of a yellow, husked and tasseled ear.

Corn has developed a negative reputation in our culture—and rightfully so. Its large-scale farming destroys ecosystems; its processing is harmful to both environment and individual consumer; its production exists in a precariously balanced government subsidy program in which, ultimately, the farmers who risk their livelihoods to cultivate the ancient grain, lose—often sacrificing a lifetime’s health and finances.

It’s strange, how human intervention so drastically changed the corn plant—how, as Michael Pollan illustrates in his book The Botany of Desire our desire for certain traits from the corn plant irrevocably transformed corn’s evolutionary trajectory.

Corn was and is a staple diet of many segments of ancient and modern America. U.S. culture visualizes corn as the yellow and white symmetrical rows with green husk and frilled tassel. In reality, there are dozens of strains, in various shapes and sizes. Corn was sacred to many early American societies, particularly in the South Americas. Each variety and function corn represented was respected and even worshiped.

Its significance as a staple crop was recognized and celebrated.

We’ve deviated far from understanding our mutualistic relationship, and that lack of consideration has compromised our health, ecosystems, and connection to a symbiotic plant-human relationship that is crucial to human well being and survival.

I find it odd to ponder that the corn syrup found in soft drinks and candy is produced from the same plant that formed the well-salted, butter-dripping ear of corn clasped between my thumbs and forefingers. It truly is a wonder how humans invented ways to manipulate the natural world. Whether many of these manipulations are bad or good remains to be seen—we’re human experiments.

What concerns me is how often we stop to ask, “Why.” It seems an important question, that’s too often overlooked.

Corn on the cob is delightfully messy to eat. It’s a sensual experience, sweet and salty, butter dripping between fingers and across lips and chin. It’s a meal that requires full physical involvement—chewing, picking teeth, licking fingers, wiping chin, sucking sweet juice and butter soaked cob, and then having just one more.

Fresh Sweet Corn and Green Beans
Fresh Sweet Corn and Green Beans

My favorite summer meal is a BLT and corn on the cob. I’m blessed to have had this meal every summer I can remember because my parents raised my sister and I in a dreamy, hard-work-harvest, food landscape. Food and food production plays in most good memories I have.

The corn crop is a passion-project for my father. He puts up electric fences and works tirelessly to keep birds, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, and raccoons from destroying the tempting plants.

The summer I was fourteen, we worked as a family propping up corn stalks after a flattening wind and rain storm almost destroyed the harvest. We crawled on our hands and knees in the black, rain-wet dirt—my mother, father, sister, and me. The sun was hot, and it was humid beneath the tasseled corn-tree-trunks that towered above my bent back. Dirt crawled up my fingernails, and slugs slumped away from my patting hands, as I propped and packed, propped and packed. It was boiling and hard work, but a camaraderie developed between siblings and parents. When the rows stood straight again, we swam, the four of us, washing away dirt, laughing, brushing corn pollen from our hair.

I’ve had a lot of delicious BLTs, but those made in the Mills household will always be the best: my mother’s homemade bread, bacon, fresh-picked tomato, crisp garden-lettuce, and tangy organic mayo. My sister and I were usually given the task of shucking the corn, which we did with gusto, enjoying the squeak and pull as husks loosened and tore. We brought the glowing ears to mama, who lowered them, careful not to splash, into waiting boiling water.

She always knew exactly when to remove them (3-5 minutes).

As soon as the corn was ready, it was time to eat. We rolled steaming, golden-rowed, summer-incarnate ears in butter; salted, peppered, and ate.

It all comes together in flavors that, for me, hold the essence of summer and family. It’s a connection to the ancient grain that binds peoples and generations across this giant American continent, and now, in our global world, across the planet.

Roasted Sweet Corn, Chicken thighs, broccoli slaw, tomato salsa
Roasted Sweet Corn, Chicken thighs, broccoli slaw, tomato salsa

 

Sweet Corn, Cantaloupe, Roasted Jalapeno, Sungold Salsa:

Diced Sungold Tomatoes

Lime Juice

Diced Cantaloupe

Minced Roasted Jalapeno

Boil or Roast Sweet corn then slice from the cob

Minced Garlic

Salt/Pepper to Taste

Minced Fresh Oregano

Replace Cantaloupe with other fresh berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries.

 

Sweet Corn, Sungold, Cantaloupe Salsa

Sweet Corn, Sungold, Cantaloupe Salsa

Roasted Sweet Corn and Cantaloupe Salsa

Roasted Sweet Corn and Chicken Thigh Tacos

Boil or Roast Sweet corn then slice from the cob

Quality corn tortillas

Sautéed Chicken thighs—chipotle seasoning

Broccoli Slaw

Diced Sungold Tomatoes mixed with diced garlic

 

 

Roasted Sweet Corn

Roasted Sweet Corn

 

Roasted Sweet Corn Tacos

Roasted Sweet Corn Tacos

 

Sungold Tomatoes

Sungold Tomatoes

 

Roasting Jalapeno
Roasting Jalapeno

The Mechanics


The Mechanics

Dirty brake hands
Brake hands

I mow approximately an acre. With a push-mower. I understand the lawn isn’t, technically, necessary. However, it helps keep the bugs down, or so I tell myself. In Deerton, bugs are a constant battle. I will also argue the lawn was mowed this way before, and it’s easy to follow the yard line. I also love how it looks. Untamed wilderness at the lawn’s edges makes a startling contrast to thick, impenetrable brush and trees forming a border around the yard line.

First mower
First mower

I learned how to use both a push and riding lawnmower when I lived with my husband. I liked the rider, as I could have a beer or glass of wine and enjoy my yard one, ever-smaller, concentric circle at a time.

My cabin didn’t come with a mower, so I went down to a dealer in Skandia and looked for something used, aka in my teensy-tiny budget. When I walked into the show-room a gentleman was in the process of buying the only used one available, but changed his mind at the last minute, and for $150 the mower was mine.

I arrived home, unloaded the mower, and surveyed the waving grass blades and bobbing daisy heads. I had just purchased my first lawnmower. Before me were hundreds of laps around the rocky yard, a lot of bug bites, and moments of deep satisfaction, sipping wine and surveying the results of my efforts.

Inappropriate Weed Whipper Attire
Inappropriate Weed Whipper Attire

The work is hard–the yard dips and plunges. It’s full of rocks, and unexpected tree stumps popping out of tall grass to quickly stop a mower blade. The bugs are horrendous: black flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies. I’ve often eaten as many as five mosquitoes in a couple hours just opening my mouth for a deep breath.

But somehow, I don’t mind that much. Perhaps it’s doing it myself; a sense of accomplishment; stubborn pride; single woman goal achievement; forced exercise; a chance to touch each inch of the land I own and inhabit.

The lawnmower wasn’t my first triumphant act, and it certainly won’t be the last.

I learned how to use a weed wacker, switch the propane tank for the two-burner stove, change the water filter, build stone walk-ways, swap my brakes (with assistance), and carpentry work will soon be an addition to the list.

New Brakes
New Brakes
Bad brakes
Bad brakes

My education came out of necessity–I don’t have money to hire someone to do these things, and I’m perfectly capable of learning. But the honest truth is: I probably wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to.

My mother asks: “How can you stay alone there, night after night?”

Because I have to. Because it’s my home. Necessity.

New brake pads and a cautionary brake image.
New brake pads and a cautionary brake image.

I lost my fear of the dark. I lost my fear of being alone. Because I had to–either that or leave my home–give it up to fear.

Many times, I’ve thought of my dear friend Dorothy who lived alone in a cabin in the Canadian woods after her husband passed away. Children grown, she stuck it out there for several years before moving closer to town. She lived rustic, created a garden, hauled water, and enjoyed her space–her solitude.

It becomes something you wrap around yourself. Something you own. Out of what is, sometimes, the agony of necessity, comes strength to walk across the pitch-dark yard without a flashlight, and never consider needing one.

Brakes
Brakes

Breakfast

Breakfast can be greatly improved by a bit of inspiration. Oatmeal, granola, eggs–they don’t have to be boring. The addition of/pairing with nontraditional ingredients makes this meal more delicious and interesting.

I love to make a big breakfast for a room full of people–scrambled eggs with everything from the fridge–everyone crunching on toast and bacon. Coffee steaming. I also love to make oatmeal from the odd grains at the back of my cupboard, dab on Fage Greek Yogurt (full fat please) and mix and match fruits (frozen, dried and/or fresh), nuts, granola, seeds, milk, honey/maple syrup. Sometimes jelly or jam. Nutmeg or cinnamon.

Many of my tastiest ideas are inspired by photos. I hope this gallery will help provide inspiration. I will keep posting as inspiration occurs!

 

Fresh Raspberries, dried cranberries, fresh blueberries over Greek yogurt and mixed grain (whatever was in the cupboard) Oatmeal
Fresh Raspberries, dried cranberries, fresh blueberries over Greek yogurt and mixed grain (whatever was in the cupboard) Oatmeal
Dried Cranberries, Granola, Chia Seeds
Dried Cranberries, Granola, Chia Seeds
Blueberry, Granola, Greek Yogurt, Coconut Milk, Black Chia Seeds
Blueberry, Granola, Greek Yogurt, Coconut Milk, Black Chia Seeds
Chopped Veggies for a Veggie Scramble
Chopped Veggies for a Veggie Scramble
Veggie Scramble, Bacon, Toast
Veggie Scramble, Bacon, Toast–Blue Stem Farms CSA
Leftover Salad with Soft Egg
Leftover Salad with Soft Egg
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg
Raspberries and Honey
Raspberries and Honey on Mixed Grain Oatmeal
Eggs N' Greens with Brie Toast
Eggs N’ Greens with Brie Toast
Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta
Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta

 

 

What are You Hungry For?

What are You Hungry For?

Pear Galette, made by my beautiful and talented sister, Laurel.
Pear Galette, made by my beautiful and talented sister, Laurel.

When you trace the days back, skip over calendar squares like spaces on a game board, reversing: events, choices, moments, does it overwhelm you? Do you look back to a month, three months, seven, a year ago and pause for a moment, wondering what the hell happened?

It’s a dizzying spiral that can, too often, lead down a rabbit hole, rehashing events we can’t do anything to change, but somehow find the need to comb through endlessly.

Lying in bed, mowing the giant lawn, working around the house, my thoughts slip easily into this well-worn groove, like tires into a rut. The past whispers, and soon I feel the tight, familiar ache in my jaw, as I begin to clench. Sadness, anxiety, twist in my chest.

Re-set.

I take a deep breath. Work to close the lid over my Pandora’s Box of worries I can’t change right now, or ever.

Home-waters. Big Manistique Lake
Home-waters. Big Manistique Lake

I’m used to cooking for another human every day. I find inspiration in their tastes, the mood, and what we’re craving.

“What are you hungry for?” Is, it seems, a much more interesting question to ask other people, but not so much yourself. These days, my answer to myself is usually, “rice pudding.” I go to the container in the fridge, dump on some nutmeg and cinnamon and plop/lean, eating wherever I am in the house. When I’m sufficiently shocked at how much rice pudding I’ve consumed, again, in one sitting, I return container to fridge.

I’ve analyzed my reliance on the side-food group “Pudding” and I think it hearkens back to comfort food of my childhood.

Grandma Betty Harkness made my sister and me the most delicious rice/vanilla puddings. We got to eat them from her company-special, cut green glass goblets. Our spoons clinked against emerald glass, creamy pudding swirled along fluted edges, and the morsel lingering in stemmed bottom had to be reached with our pinky fingers when no one was looking. The sweet, velvety pudding was both a treat and a comfort. Special glasses, cream and sugar, Grandma’s cozy kitchen.

While the pudding from the food co-op is delicious, it imparts little of the comfort I crave.

Lady friends, food, and dogs.
Lady friends, food, and dogs.

Impulsively, I invite various friends and groups of friends for dinner. Before confirmations, I begin planning and cooking. The energy focused on holding down the box lid on my trunk of worries, I divide, to focus on meal planning. In the morning, as I finish the lawn, instead of running the hamster wheel of apprehensions, I categorize ingredients in cupboards, shelves, fridge, and freezer. My mind adds and subtracts ingredients—grouping, arranging, rearranging.

Venison: the protein. Simple buttery polenta: the base. Fresh herbs: the green note. Frozen cauliflower from my father’s garden: the creamy, garlicky sauce. Roses are blooming on the cabin’s south-side, and a long-ago gardener’s rhubarb legacy peeks elephantine-ear leaves through tall grass. Roses, Honey, and Rhubarb: the sweet.

Heirloom Roses
Heirloom Roses
Wild Strawberries and Rhubarb from the yard.
Wild Strawberries and Rhubarb from the yard.
Rose Petal white wine
Rose Petal white wine

 

 

 

 

The sun moves through its longest days’ orbit and apologetic cancellations and rain checks for “dinner next time” trickle in.

It doesn’t matter. The meal’s underway in my mind. I have something else to focus on, and I leap from hamster wheel to kitchen counter with desperate relief.

The meal comes together throughout the day. I give myself up to familiar rhythms: chopping, mixing, spicing, stirring, seasoning—decisions weighty enough to satisfy and calm my anxious mind.

One person to cook for would be enough, and dear friend Ryan arrives. He doesn’t simply arrive, but walks through the door bearing a bag of fresh clams, mussels, and conch from Maine.

We steam the seafood, filling the cabin with a briny, tide pool aroma unfamiliar to Laughing Whitefish River shores.

We eat shelled delicacies in the screen tent, near the river. Maple leaf shadows stipple the tabletop. River water chuckles over stones, nearby. Finches, robins, and meadowlarks fill the insect-humming air with melody.

Maine seafood by the Laughing Whitefish River
Maine seafood by the Laughing Whitefish River

I can’t help myself, and chuckle aloud, as garlic-herb butter drips down my fingers.

It’s all still here—the worries, fears, anxieties—but distant now. Like the far-away whine of a mosquito you know you’ll have to deal with eventually, but for the moment, you’re safe.

 

 

Eating Alone

Eating Alone

I’ve been in two, serious, back-to-back, long-term relationships since I was 19. I’m 32 and six months single.

I came of age as a cook, and as a writer, with a partner. Cooking for someone else at least five nights a week sincerely influenced my culinary decisions. It challenged me to find ways to make two very different men like vegetables more. It pushed me to impress, both my men and extended friends and family, with my culinary prowess. It was a way I attempted to show two very differently, indifferent men, that I loved them. Every meal I put in front of them, I handed a little piece of myself to be taken inside them. Love, infusing food I’d made with these hands, now, a part of my love.

Venison Tenderloin, homemade sauerkraut, Brie, fresh herbs, garlic toum
Venison Tenderloin Sandwich, homemade sauerkraut, Brie, fresh herbs, garlic toum

Unfortunately, good food and love need more, to keep a forever-relationship, forever.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m really alone. One room cabin, 40 acres. Middle-of-nowhere-Deerton-Upper Peninsula wilderness-alone.

In the past, when single people have talked to me about challenges cooking for themselves, I fear I’ve been a bit flippant in my response. “I love cooking for myself,” I’d say with just a hint of disbelief and a total lack of context. “I cook something delicious just for myself, and it’s a treat. I’m glad to give you some recipe ideas,” I would finish with what I fear might have been a hint of bothersome self-assuredness. I couldn’t fully understand their perspective, because I’d never been in that position.

Eggs N' Greens with Brie Toast
Eggs N’ Greens with Brie Toast

I get it now. It’s damn hard to cook a nice meal for yourself when you live alone. By nice, I mean put the time and energy to buy groceries and create something delicious and soul-satisfying, just for yourself. When we cook for others, we’re aware of many things: the need to impress, nourish, sustain, and nurture those we’re feeding. We put all of that into the food, and the flavors, etc. answer. But there isn’t always incentive, to do that for ourselves. Food becomes fuel when you’re alone. You eat standing, perching, laying down, but not sitting around a table. At the moment, I don’t even have a table.

I try. I’m a food writer. I love food and flavor is really important to me. Every aspect of good eating is important to me. But somehow, other things take precedence. I don’t eat as regularly. I read or watch a movie, trying to remember mindfulness with each bite. Trying.

Why are we less likely to nourish ourselves, than others?

Rhubarb, Honey, Rose Petals
Rhubarb, Honey, Rose Petals

In a rural setting, it becomes an interesting challenge. The closest grocery store is a solid 25 minute drive away. When I’m hungry at home, I’m also all the way home, and not likely to jump in the car just to get myself a meal. So I end up with interesting concoctions and combinations of snacks and half-meals that I often consume standing, then sitting, then walking around as other agenda items momentarily take precedence over eating. It’s not like that, when you eat with others. You focus more, on the meal, atmosphere, conversation, their reactions, the play of light across food, wine, faces.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. I chant, a mantra. But before I know it my eggs are getting cold, and the buttered toast, chill. However, I’ve managed to sweep, play with the puppy, and hang clothes on the line, so there’s always a tradeoff.

Sit down and eat your damn eggs. I remind myself in something approximating a mental-stern-mommy-voice. They’re still good, even cold.

I’ve learned that eggs are a single person’s best friend. They’re a simple-to-cook, locally sourceable, healthy, versatile protein option. They’re adaptable to any cuisine theme. They’re comfort food.

Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta
Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta
Eggs N' Greens with Brie Toast
Eggs N’ Greens with Brie Toast
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg

 

 

 

 

 

***All recipes are adaptable to adding many more people to your meal!

Soft-Boiled Eggs and Toast—Arguably, the Ultimate Comfort Food (Shailah, I know how you feel about yolks)

  • 2 local eggs
  • Good bread for toasting
  • Butter
  • Cheese (optional)
  • Salt/Pepper to taste (I also like to use garlic salts, dill, tarragon, turmeric, etc. depending on what flavor mood I’m in)

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Slowly lower in eggs, one at a time, careful not to jar. Let boil for approximately 4 minutes, depending on how runny you like the yolk.

Run eggs under cold water and carefully remove shell. Sprinkle eggs with desired flavors.

Toast bread, and then butter. Cut into dippable/scoopable slices.

Eggs and Greens
Eggs and Greens

Eggs and Greens

  • 2 local eggs
  • Good bread for toasting
  • Butter
  • Large handful of greens (chard, kale, spinach, micro greens, mustard greens, arugula, wilted lettuce, etc.) –The greens melt down into next to nothing, so use a generous handful.
  • Minced Garlic (Add garlic towards the end of cooking process for a more full flavor)
  • Salt/pepper/spices to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Braggs Liquid Aminos/ Soy Sauce
  • Water—not always needed, but might be necessary to keep greens from sticking. Sometimes, I also just add butter.

Melt greens in oil with spices and Braggs/Soy Sauce. When greens are melty, make a well in the center and add eggs and garlic. Cover, making sure to keep a bit of liquid in the bottom, and cook until eggs are sunnyside up (whites are cook and there’s a film over the yolk, but yolk’s still runny). Scoop eggs, greens, and pan juices into a bowl.

Other Egg Meal Ideas:

  • Sometimes, I cheat and use packets of Indian curries our food coop carries. The ingredients are good and healthy, and they don’t have a bunch of preservatives. There’s different options, and you can add to them. Ditto with the organic ramen/noodle packets. I add cabbage, peppers, zucchini, seafood, leftover sausage/chicken/venison/beef/pork, chopped nuts, etc. And of course, eggs. They can be cooked however you’re craving eggs, and added to the curry/noodle dish.
  • Hard-boiled, or even soft-boiled (using the yolk as part of the dressing) eggs are delicious on most salads.
  • Plain old eggs, bacon, and toast is a perfect comfort food.
Local Eggs
Local Eggs