Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bringing Home the Dunbarton Gold

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Making my way through Midwest airports on my way back home to Washington State, I took good care of the big hunk of Wisconsin cheese wrapped in French cheese paper and tucked into my backpack.

The wedge of Dunbarton Gold was purchased after an afternoon tasting Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor Wisconsin, a picturesque town on the historic Door Peninsula.

Head cheesemonger Peter Kordon and operations manager and chocolatier Kathy McCarthy opened a bottle of Michel Picard 2009 Vouvray (we asked for one wine that would work with the cheeses they’d selected for us) and then brought out four delicious samples. The Dunbarton Gold was served drizzled with honey and dried Door County Montmorencey cherries. It had me at first bite.

Made by fourth-generation Wisconsin cheesemaker Chris Roelli, Dunbarton Gold is a mild cheddar made from the milk of grass-fed small-herd Wisconsin cows. It has just a whisper of blue and is cave-cured. And it is delicious.

Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese opened the Egg Harbor location in late 2011. The big display case is filled with fine handmade Wisconsin cheeses handmade by area cheese masters (Wisconsin is the only state that requires rigorous exams to earn the status.)

Oh, sure. I picked up a big bag of cheese curds at the airport. That’s what you do. But I can’t wait for a quiet evening at home so I can bring out the Gold and pass it around.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Tired and True Companion

For more than a decade I've spent a good part of my career working from home, and I've shared that time with two dogs, a couple of cats and, when they were younger, my four children.

The children aren't underfoot anymore. Only the youngest is still at home. The cats keep their own company. The younger dog waits patiently for my daughter to get home from school, moving from room to room as it suits him.

But my old retriever is at least 14 years old, if not older. This last year has brought changes that are hard to ignore. These days he sleeps for hours at my feet while I work, rousing only to have his breakfast or greet visitors or family members. When he thinks it's time for a meal, or something unusual is going on, he gets excited but he's soon asleep again.

When I travel, I worry about him just as I do my family, calling home to make sure he's OK.

In this week's Home Planet column in The Spokesman-Review, I wrote about my old dog and how it feels to watch the inevitable changes in my Tired and True Companion

I was touched by the notes and comments by readers who also share a workspace with an aging pet. Compared to our own, the lives of our pets are short. But they earn a place in our hearts and our memory with the tender, unconditional love they show us.
And that never fades away.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Door County Fish Boil at White Gull Inn

I was told that no visitor to Door County, Wisconsin should go home without enjoying a traditional Door County fish boil at White Gull Inn. So tonight I joined the crowd for the Friday night winter feast. (From May through October the fish boils happen Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.)

The fire was already roaring, with a big stainless steel pot full of hot water beginning to boil, when I joined the other people with cameras standing around the fire ring.

The procedure is more exact that you would think. The Master Boiler, Tom Christianson, puts a big steel basket of potatoes in the water and then pours in a coffee can full of salt. After the potatoes boil for a bit, another steel basket- this one full of Lake Michigan Whitefish--is placed on top of the potatoes and the rest of the salt--one pound for every two gallons of water--is added.

The fish cooks fast, enough to feed 45 people takes about 10 minutes, and as soon as it's done the most theatrical part of the evening takes place. Like dinner theater with fish and fire.

Christianson fills another can with kerosene and dashes it onto the fire which erupts into tall flames. Seconds later another splash of kerosene creates a bigger inferno causing the water to boil over, taking with it all the oil that has risen to the surface as the fish cooked.

Watch the boilover video here.

What looks like a big show is really an efficient way of keeping the fish and potatoes from being bathed in oil as the baskets are lifted out of the water.
As Christianson says, "I don't know who invented this process, it's been done for a long time, but I sure do admire the bravery of the man who tried it the first time."

Immediately after the over-boil, Christianson and a helper slip a long steel pipe through the handles of the baskets and carry both inside the restaurant. The experienced diners have already rushed inside to be first in line.

One by one we filed through having our plates filled with boiled red potatoes and fish, both perfectly seasoned by the salt. On the table baskets of bread, bowls of coleslaw and pots of melted butter are waiting.

It is all delicious. And, as a fine finish for a fish boil or any other meal, slices of Door County cherry--with a scoop of vanilla ice cream--are served for dessert.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Craters of the Moon National Monument

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When my friend Pam and I took a road trip through Southern Idaho, we spent an afternoon exploring the otherworldly landscape at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

We had intended to drive through the park, snap a few photos and then move on. But once we were there it was almost impossible to drive away without going deeper. Literally.

Although neither of us is ever particularly eager to go underground, we knew that if we didn't at least peer into one of the famous lava tubes, we would have gotten only half of the experience. So, with the day waning, we followed the narrow asphalt path onto the broken basaltic ground leading to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel tube.

Once inside, skittish of the bats we knew were hanging in the shadows over our heads, we walked deeper, to a place where the light streams in through a broken ceiling. Testing each step, we picked our way across the fallen stones littering the floor of the cave.

Then we made our way back to the car just as the golden light of late afternoon washed over the road ahead of us.

That night, in my hotel room, with the experience still in my mind, I sat down and wrote this essay for my Home Planet newspaper column.

And, as is so often the case, I want to go back again with my family. I've discovered that may be the most unexpected benefit of solo travel. It's human nature to want to share what we've seen with the ones we love the most.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Santa Margherita, Italy.

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Blue skies. Calm water. Warm sunshine, narrow lanes with cobblestones and brightly-painted doorways. An ancient castle. Oh, and it's just a short boat ride from Portofino.

Santa Margherita, especially in the off season, is a postcard view of the Ligurian region of Italy. The lush tropical plants and trees, old stone walls and vine-covered terraces, lure you into strolling along the narrow lanes and streets, coax you to climb the hill to take in the view of the bay, to visit the gardens and tour the cool,shadowy interior of the Basilica of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.

Santa Margherita is worth exploring, especially when the crowds depart after the end of summer holiday. We visited in early October, when the sun was still hot but the tourists were gone and we had the lovely little town to ourselves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Mexico: Taos and Santa Fe

(Window detail, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos)

It's easy, on a cold, gray, Northwest February day, to daydream of warmer places. So, going through photos this morning, I lingered over a file full of images taken on a trip to New Mexico last fall.

The days were warm, and the nights were chilly enough for a sweater, but all day long sunlight washed over us and painted the landscape with deep shades of ocher and sienna.

Exploring the sights, the places Georgia O'Keefe had lived and painted and the ancient pueblos and Missions, I could see why Taos and Santa Fe take hold in the imagination.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I wrote about the strong, determined and ambitious women who settled there in "Well-behaved Women Didn't Make New Mexico's History." And the power of the New Mexico landscape in the almost spiritual quest of "Seeking a Sense of the Right Place".

I've already planned a return trip. I'll bring back more of the sun, more photographs and enough inspiration to carry me through another winter.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scenes from Biltmore Estate: Asheville, North Carolina

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

The first time you see the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina, the size overwhelms. Built by George Vanderbilt and opened--still not completed--in 1895, the vast, 125,000 acre estate is rightfully called America's Castle.

But spend any time walking through the gardens--designed by Frederick Law Olmsted--or taking in the view from the wide stone terraces, and the exquisite details are what you remember: The sight of the Great Smoky Mountains framed through a window of gnarled and blooming Wisteria vines. Or, a wide grassy field on the other side of an ornate old iron gate.

Don't rush. Buy a bottle of Biltmore wine. Linger. Then open your eyes to the magic of one beautiful and unexpected view after another.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Classic Nashville: Hatch Show Print Posters

Posters done by Hatch Show Print are iconic Americana, connected to some of the most significant performances--and not just country music-- in U.S. popular culture and social history.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

They are instantly recognizable. The signature block print. The simple graphics. The bold type.

Last spring, visiting Nashville, Tennessee, I was able to spend an hour with manager Jim Sherraden poking around the shop. Everywhere I looked, I stumbled onto a name or event that was familiar.

Even as I snapped photos, staff were working on posters for an upcoming Neil Young concert.

Hatch Show Print is now a non-profit operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Here's a tip: you don't have to be a celebrity or aspiring talent to have your own signature poster. (Minimum orders start at 250 posters.)

This month's Country Living Magazine features a short profile of Hatch Show Print. You can view the behind-the-scenes tour here

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romancing the Rails

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I am a train lover

I love the rhythm, the intimacy, the freedom to sit and daydream, watching for wildlife and studying the patterns of the clouds, instead of worrying about missing my exit on the freeway.

I've ridden the Amtrak Empire Builder across the Northwest, and the Crescent from New Orleans to New York City.

I've crisscrossed Europe by train, people-watching and studying villages and glorious old cities through the wide windows.

My daughter and I rode the Maglev train in China, rocketing across the landscape at breathtaking speed.

But last fall I took a three day excursion from Vancouver, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta on the Rocky Mountaineer. And by the time the trip ended my love affair with trains was only deeper.

In the Gold Leaf coach we were treated like royalty. Gazing up at the jagged mountains through the domed top of the coach, I was surrounded by people of all ages who were making the trip of a lifetime. Some were celebrating anniversaries, others were marking their "must do before I die" lists. My seatmate had traveled from Australia to see her brother in Toronto and she was crossing the country by rail. I told her that one day I hope to cross her country the same way.

At one point, we pulled onto a siding and the attendants let us know a fast-moving freight train was approaching. As I stood in the vestibule taking photos of the beautiful autumn scenery, I became aware of a faint hum. It grew louder and I realized it was the empty rails beside us vibrating from the movement of the coming train. The sound grew louder and more defined and just before the freight train reached us and sped past, the tracks made the high, clear sound a bell makes after it's been rung. It was as thrilling as hearing a whale's song, and as I moved back to my seat and the train started moving again, I played the sound over in my head, relishing it.

Later, when we pulled into the station I stepped out onto the platform and took one last photo of the train, not quite ready for the trip to end.

No wonder trains have been wrapped in romance since the first iron horse thundered across the rails. If you listen close enough, trains will sing. And for train lovers like me, something inside us sings back.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Heidelberg Castle: Today's Travel Photo

Sitting high on the hillside above the city of Heidleberg, Germany, the Heidelberg Castle is an elegant ruin.

Now the vine-covered walls are softened by time and hint of history. Strolling down the paths it is impossible not to stop and look and imagine what once was. To imagine the castle, a rambling structure of towers, halls and wings of many architectural styles, filled with life; with the sound of carriage wheels on cobblestone courtyards and the voices of men and women going about their work. Looking at the ruin, the violence of war, even an ancient war, is all around you.

The castle was destroyed during the Thirty Years War, rebuilt, then, after a lightning strike in 1764, abandoned again, and for decades, until the practice was forbidden in 1800, the castle's stones were used by Heidelberg citizens to build their homes.

But now, at night, as seen from the bridges and the river below, the illuminated castle sits over the city like a heavy crown of parapets, empty windows and open, mysterious, doorways.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

A Gloriette View of Schönbrunn: Today's Travel Photo

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

The upside of a decidedly warmer-than-usual winter is that I've been daydreaming about gardens. Not only my own small backyard plot, but the grand gardens I've visited on my travels.
Some of the grandest are the gardens at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria.

I took this photo of the Gloriette on the hill overlooking the formal gardens on a beautiful early-autumn day. The grass was still green and the flowers were still in full-bloom.

The beautiful structure crowns the hillside and was once used as a dining room. Damaged in WWII, it was restored in the mid-1990s.

If you visit Schönbrunn, save an hour or so to tour the monuments, gardens and fountains surrounding the palace. The stroll to the Gloriette is lovely and the view is worth every step.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Carnival at Whitefish, Montana: Today's Travel Photo

Whitefish, Montana is a little Western town with plenty of opportunities for big fun. As a gateway to Glacier National Park, and sitting at the base of Big Mountain, the town is a haven for travelers all year long.

While summer vacationers heading to Glacier pack Whitefish in warm weather, winter is all about fun in the snow.

February brings the annual Winter Carnival and with it off-beat attractions such as the Penguin Plunge into icy Whitefish Lake
and a Grand Parade down the center of town.

In addition, Black Star Beer holds its Beer Barter at the Great Northern Brewing Company, inviting the public to come up with wild and crazy items and ideas they'd be willing to trade for a year's worth of beer.

You can read more about the Whitefish Winter Carnival and the Black Star Beer Barter in my Spokesman-Review Home Planet column.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oh, The Places She Will Go!

(Photo by Jenna Millsap)

For almost 10 years I've been writing about my life--and my family--in my Spokesman-Review Home Planet column and blog. Over the years that family has changed and gone through many transitions. Now, there is a new addition.

Looking at this first grandchild, imagining the life ahead of her, I daydream about things she will do and the places she will go. I know that whatever I can teach her will be matched by what she will teach me and I'm filled with optimism and delight at the idea of watching her grow.

If I have my way, we will have many adventures together and these tiny feet will travel the world.

Read Home Planet: "To See The World Through the Eyes of a Child"