Jan Stafford Kellis

Thanklessly Thankful

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how grateful I am to live in a small town, geographically sequestered as we are from civilization, culture and shopping malls. It’s easy to take certain things for granted here, such as the crime rate (zero) and the way we leave our keys in our trucks and never lock our houses (I think I have a key…somewhere). When Mother Nature is burying us in snow or breathing her icy breath down our backs, when I drive to work on unplowed roads without passing another soul, when the latest rumor only needs fifteen minutes to be twisted and communicated to everyone from the mayor to the one homeless person, it’s hard to remember why I like living here.

I don’t recall living anywhere else, which makes it difficult to imagine moving away and actually joining the daily commuters on a city train or wearing a suit to an office on the twenty-seventh floor (our tallest building here is three stories, but it’s a B&B; we have no office buildings and I wear jeans to work!). City life looks and sounds glamorous until I consider the hordes of tourists, summer people and weekenders who drive for hours or days to enjoy a tiny slice of the good life, breathing our sweet, fresh air and walking down the middle of the street in celebration of our lack of traffic.

As for the weather, testing our strength of character today with icy winds straight off the water, at least it provides conversational fodder every day of the year. I’ve often wondered what people from temperate climates discuss when they meet on the street–do they comment on the temperature? (“Nice day again–70 degrees. I thought it was going to dip below 68 last night, but it held steady”) Or do they even notice the weather at all? Maybe the weather fades right into the background until the one rainy day, every blue moon or so, when it’s back in the spotlight until the sun emerges and life returns to normal. Our forecasters work hard here–the Great Lakes provide not only scenic beauty, shipping channels and water recreation venues, they also flummox weathermen with unpredictable wind patterns and temperature changes. The forecasters, then, are rarely correct in their predictions but they are followed by a loyal cadre of weather-obsessed people who plan their wardrobes and schedules around daily meteorological proclamations.

It seems I’ve digressed from my original topic, which was something about being thankful I live here in this desolate, beautiful, politically neglected place.

Here are some reasons I’m thankful:

scenery/fresh air
low crime rate
keys/locks unnecessary
low population
knowing everyone in town
no fast food restaurants
no traffic
my job–it’s wonderful, an office job in an interesting field–which allows me to dress as I do every day, in jeans and a t-shirt (no kidding!)

Here are some things I’d like, but I know if they were improved the very character of the UP would be compromised and I might as well just live elsewhere because pretty soon everything will be the same anyway, so the following list should be given no weight whatsoever:

cheaper, fresher groceries
cheaper gas
more jobs (with higher pay)
more restaurants (but no fast food! Yuck)
more hotels
mall/shopping center
warmer climate (but still, no deadly snakes, bugs or spiders, and no life-threatening natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes or tornadoes)

Hhmmm. The more I think about it, the less attractive living elsewhere appears. I think I’ll continue to live here, work two or three jobs (depends how you count them) and take vacations to civilization, staying just long enough to prove to myself once again that I would rather be here.

So, come on UP! On your next vacation hop in the car and drive north until you find us…sit in the bar, talk to some locals, stay a few days.

What’s For Dinner?

I stopped eating store-bought meat nearly four years ago, and have since lost the will to cook (is it really worth all the trouble to feed one or two?). The only time I enjoy cooking is when I’m preparing for an event such as a Bookworms Anonymous meeting, when I can make enough gourmet vegetarian fare to feed at least 7 and hopefully have some leftovers for lunch the next day. Choosing and preparing one meal for seven people once every six or eight months is so much easier than doing it for one or two people every night!

Tonight, though, we are having a family dinner together at home like ‘regular people’. The menu? Venison, fried with onions, potatoes (also fried with onions), baked beans, and cherry crisp (I have fresh-frozen pitted cherries from last summer waiting in my freezer, each bag containing the proper amount for one cherry crisp recipe). We even have strawberry sorbet in case anyone wants their crisp served ala mode.

Just knowing what to prepare, and knowing we will sit down together and eat, motivates me to run home and start marinating the meat. A normal evening at our house finds me preparing a crazy pasta-vegetable-shrimp/soy meat dish while my husband cooks steak and potatoes for himself. My daughter then has her choice of menu, sometimes sampling both, but we rarely sit down together because nothing is ready at the same time.

If I believed in New Year’s Resolutions, I suppose I could resolve to prepare a family meal every night, plan menus and shop accordingly for a month or so, then revert to the way I do it now. Luckily, I don’t believe in NY Resolutions, so tonight’s perfectly normal dinner will be viewed as a special occasion in our house. Maybe I’ll even light a candle.

Venison Marinade:

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 TBLS ketchup
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder (I’ll use freshly minced garlic)
1/2 tsp onion salt (I’ll use shallot salt)

Put marinade ingredients in a plastic zipper bag; mix well and add meat. Let sit out on counter for twenty to thirty minutes, then cook meat in skillet at med-high heat. Serve with fried onions and potatoes.

Cherry Crisp Recipe:

4 cups pitted cherries
3/4 c sugar
4 TBLS flour

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup butter

Combing cherries, white sugar and 4 TBLS flour. Pour into 9″x13″ baking dish. In bowl, combine topping ingredients, cutting in slightly softened butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over cherries.

Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 45 – 50 minutes. Topping should be golden brown.