Thursday, May 20, 2010

FIESTA IN THE WOODS

I knew I was where I belonged for the weekend when I drove up to the cabin and found this guy ready to greet me.
Just a few miles off I-71 north of Columbus, I was back at Mohican State Park, and with friends. Settling on "fiesta" as our weekend theme, Tricia and Amy had added colorful touches to our nondescript '50s-era cabin, outside and in. Chili pepper lights on the back porch overlooking the stream, cacti and sombrero cut-outs on the living room walls, an inflatable burro rider we dubbed Pepe; even the bathroom had a little fiesta bling. There were appropriately themed serving dishes, and maraca keychain party favors for all.
Becky had arrived a little ahead of me, and we were both glad to be off the highway. All of us were ready to celebrate, as well as to relax.
Living in different parts of the state, the four of us rendezvous several times a year, but in May we honor the woman who brought us all together, and who died suddenly four years ago. Della loved her birthday, always turning it into a party or getaway of some sort, and we have continued that tradition. She was an assistant park ranger for the State of Ohio, so it is only fitting that each year we celebrate her birthday at one of the Ohio state parks.
Mohican is one of our favorites because of the stream just a few footsteps behind the cabins. The fire ring between the screened back porch and the stream . . .
was perfect for grilling brats and Italian sausages our first night, and staying up late, catching up, reminiscing . . . and chasing away racoons who dared to intrude.

STRATA AL FRESCO
What a lovely spot for breakfast.
 
My "fiesta" strata adaptation worked out just fine Saturday morning. Green chiles, a can of green chili, sauteed onions and bell peppers, salsa, Monterey Jack, and cotijo cheese in addition to the usual bread, eggs, and milk/cream do indeed a tasty breakfast casserole make.
I usually make strata just the night before, pulling it out of the fridge and baking for about an hour in the morning. But there was no noticeable problem assembling the whole thing two nights in advance. It puffed up gorgeously, despite my lack of photographic evidence. Gotta love a dish that 1) is a reliable make-ahead, 2) takes well to seemingly endless variation, and 3) is just about impossible to mess up.

HURRY UP AND WAIT
Fortified by fresh air and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to embark on a new adventure - boating on the Clear Fork Reservoir. Sandwiches were made. Sunscreen, towels, and beverages were assembled. The sky was blue and our spirits were running high with anticipation. But we ran into a glitch. Amy's keys were nowhere to be found . . . except, by process of elimination, probably locked in her car.

Becky flagged down a park worker, who offered us a slim jim, which Amy and Trish took turns sliding down along the window, attempting to catch and free the lock.
When that proved unsuccessful, we tracked down a ranger with another approach: He used wedges to open a crack around the window, then inserted a pump-up air bladder to create enough space to thread a metal rod to get at the lock from inside the car instead of inside the door.
Interesting factoid: He told us the park has generally given up on the use of slim jims due to the risk of damaging side air-bags. At any rate, the kindly ranger was finally able to unlock Amy's car, and we breathed a serious sigh of relief. Hey, these little set-backs are the stuff of reminiscences to come.

PONTOON ADVENTURE
Undeterred by our later-than-anticipated start, we were determined to get to the lake that afternoon. On our last trip to Mohican, we'd discovered a boat rental shop at Clear Fork Lake, on the other side of I-71. We hauled our cooler and other gear down to our rented pontoon boat, and were off.

Becky and Amy took turns piloting our vessel, and it seemed like everytime I tried to take a pic of Trish, she was photographing too.
With an 8-mile-per-hour speed limit on the lake, we could putt around the lake at our leisure, admiring an equally slow-moving sailboat . . .
. . . the waterfowl that seemed to land on every buoy . . .
. . . even a surprise patch of dogwood along the shore.
Is there anything better than an afternoon on the water? Not much, I say. Despite an ill-timed potty break back at the marina when boats were lined up to exit at the conclusion of a fishing tournament we knew nothing about, and a tricky exit of our own when we discovered another boat occupying our slip, it was a fine day. I even managed to capture these photos of a blue heron and a duck family as we debated how and where to tie off.
On our way back to the cabin, we took a little detour to Gatton Rocks, where we encountered a group of prom-goers. I don't think they were quite sure what to make of our motley tie-dyed crew while they were in finery. But when we offered to take photos of them, they warmed. All the photos we took of them were on their cameras. But after they left, I snapped this.

MAKE-YOUR-OWN TACO DINNER
We took turns with meals (alas, I didn't capture them all on film, but I didn't want to be too annoying with the camera, and sometimes I was just so hungry I forgot about it). Becky's Saturday night taco bar included chunks of avocado, a fragrant bowl of cilantro, and taco meat a la Becky - deer burger cooked with the salsa she cans every year from veggies she grows herself. Nothing better - her salsa is summertime caught in a jar!

SHOT GLASS NIGHT: OUR TRADITION
Our girl Della was quite a collector. Besides collecting friends, she collected shot glasses and souvenir spoons. They cover a lot of geography. Some she bought herself during her travels; others reached her through friends and friends' families traveling to places she unfortunately would never see.

Della's husband gave them all to us, and four years later, we are still divvying up those shot glasses. The tradition we've evolved is that we each select several shot glasses and, going around in a circle, tell a "Della story" about where it's from. The first year, story-telling was pretty rough - until Trish, who hadn't know Della as long as the rest of us, busted out a tale to accompany a Nevada shot glass about her adventures with Della when they were both showgirls in Las Vegas (at least, that's how I remember it). Conjured up from thin air, and convincingly told, it was just the note of levity we needed. Now our shot-glass stories are all fabrications, and the best whopper this year was Amy's, about when she and Della were tagging manatees in Florida. Wish I could remember all the details, but they're a little fuzzy after that bottle of Amatulla we polished off.

BONUS DAY!!!!!!
Our usual weekend getaways are Friday and Saturday night stays, which, when we stay at the parks, translates into a downer on Sunday mornings, as we have to de-decorate, load all our crap back into our cars, and vacate by 11:00 a.m. This is especially unwelcome after Shot Glass Night. (Fortunately, the park staff are forgiving; I don't think we've ever made it out on time.) This year, we treated ourselves to an extra day, so we had all day Sunday!

While more active folks kayaked along the stream behind our cabin . . .
. . . we could chillax, listening to the water and observing the wildlife.
Except for Becky, who was busy whipping up our second al fresco breakfast feast.
Waffles and blueberries and maple syrup, plus sausage and cilantro- and avocado-laced eggs. We were very happy [cabin] campers.

AN AFTERNOON FOR THE BIRDS
While Becky spent some well-earned time for herself at the cabin, the rest of us headed out to the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, a lovely place we'd discovered during our last trip to Mohican. This time our visit was rain-free. I'm nowhere near the naturalist that Amy is (or Della was), so I won't embarrass myself by trying to identify all these critters. I'll just share a few photos.

MY TURN FOR MORE FOOD
Our eating schedule a bit off-kilter, we swapped a late lunch for apps by the stream. I brought bread, cheese, and an array of olive-bar items, trying to keep it simple. Unsuprisingly, I brought way more than needed. However, the leftovers made a great, easy spread to nibble on while watching last night's Top Chef Masters.
And for dinner, I transformed that salmon into salmon-watermelon-kalamata-feta-mint salad.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DELLA!
Monday morning brought Amy's delectable quiche, and our departure from the cabin.We headed to the cemetery and spiffed up Della's (and her parents') headstones, pulling weeds and spreading mulch in the rain. Plus adding some celebratory bling - including an impromptu windchime made from some of Della's spoons.
You may be gone, girlfriend. But you're certainly not forgotten. We're already talking about your 50th.

Thanks to any of my kind readers who have made it to the end of this lengthy post. Sorry I was unable to participate in the Caribbean Culinary Smackdown. Hope you'll understand I've just been too busy traveling this month to let my blog rule my real life. But I look forward to checking out everyone's posts and imbibing your culinary inspirations!

7 comments:

WaterDog said...

Very, very nice - the first bird was a vulture, aka Clermont County Eagle

doggybloggy said...

what a nice time with good eats and pleasantries all around...

intuitive eggplant said...

Yes, WaterDog, you know all about those Clermont County, er, vultures, don't you? I still laugh about the "I only voted once" bumper sticker.

Doggybloggy, thanks for stopping by! Your Culinary Smackdown entry looks fabulous - so glad you decided to share your recipes!

buffalodick said...

What a nice trip you had! Birds were cool!

Making Space said...

This made me smile - what a beautiful group of friends, and I love how you honor Della's memory with humor and food and joy and flatware windchimes. Beautiful post. Thank you.

smArtee said...

Wow that all looked like such fun...not the locked car though..but that pontton...what a blast....id love to try that....and your food looked scrumptious...all of it...!!Thanks fo rstopping by..Im glad you had fun on your trip.!

intuitive eggplant said...

BD, thanks for stopping by!

MS, aww, thanks. Della was very special, and these weekends are always so restorative.

smArtee, thanks. The keys locked in the car were not the highlight, but we'll laugh about it eventually :) And the boat trip was excellent!