Isn’t it funny how places we love to visit, the things we like to do or even the people we love can be so different from one another? Some people love the beach and snow skiing; some people love opera and heavy metal and some love both the simplicity of a well-made PB and J sandwich and the complex tastes of and skill required to pull off a classic French meal. So
metimes we find that opposites in our lives are what provide the most joy – and interest. I discovered the beauty of opposite-attraction recently when it became glaringly clear that I am an Island girl at heart…but not just any islands.
My annual October trek to Beaver Island was just as I expected: great fall colors, crisp days perfect for long walks, cold nights with a sky filled with autumnal constellations. I took long walks around Car Wash Road – that nearly deserted section of the Island that is so peaceful anytime of the year. I worked on buttoning up the house for the winter knowing I wasn’t returning (probably) until Spring. I puttered about fixing stuff then dug through my Dad’s tool boxes.
I found some cool electric tools, circa 1960-ish, that still worked perfectly so I decided to drill towel hooks into the bathroom walls before refilling the woodbox – all things I just didn’t feel like doing in the summer when the days were warm and the beach was calling! An impromptu fire in the outdoor pit made my Island visit all the more perfect.
The best part of the October trek is seeing old friends. Wherever I went – the airport, grocery store even the hardware store – I was greeted by friendly faces. Mostly I treasured the time spent with my 82-year old neighbor, Mr. Hirschey, who I’ve known my entire life. His days are quieter each year as his bones seem to ache more but as someone who was always puttering on some thing or another, he seemed to enjoy “supervising” my little projects. His advice was most helpful and welcome. My last evening he offered to fire up the wood-burning sauna so I could relax and enjoy the steamy – 140 degrees is perfect – heat. Afterwards he grilled up his “world famous brats” and the two of us enjoyed some quiet conversation as the evening grew darker and colder. My time on the Island is always too short … I imagine Mr. Hirschey thinks that his time there is too short too even though he lives there most of the year. As I walked up the lane that night headed back to my place, I saw a million stars shining down through the trees. I was happy, full and content knowing that I belong to this Island.
The following weekend I was in New York with my best friend Maria. There I was in the heart of another island: Manhattan. Every bit the opposite of my beloved Beaver Island and yet, there was so much to enjoy and see and do … and eat! It was as exhilarating as the previous weekend was peaceful. We went to Little Italy to my favorite Italian restaurant, Il Cortile where I had first gone 23 years ago and where I always go if I’m anywhere near Little Italy. This time I met the owner and told him how much I’ve enjoyed the restaurant over the years. We talked “shop” for a while and had a great conversation before he brought us a treat of homemade pumpkin gnocchi…and, oh my stars, what a delicious treat!
We also visited Chinatown, Hell’s Kitchen, 5th Avenue and Soho. We walked the High Line; do it if you ever get the chance! We hung out in Times Square just long enough to see the crowds during the day and the lights at night. We saw the skaters at Rockefeller Plaza, the Empire State Building glowing green in the night sky. We ate pizza folded NY-style and foods from New England, Italy, Brazil – all local and fresh. Abundantly wonderful. Maria and I talked and laughed and shared some tears too as best friends will do … but the laughter is what did us the most good. It dawned on me while there that I love this wild, colorful island – that I belong here too as a part of the human tapestry that is painted everyday by the mere presence of thousands of people doing thousands of different things all at the same time. Nothing will ever replace “my” Island in Michigan, but in an opposite way, I loved this island too with all its’ busy craziness. If Beaver Island is the opera, Manhattan is a rowdy heavy metal concert – and both are exactly perfect!
Mr. Hirschey’s Famous Grilled Bratwurst
Here’s the brat recipe. Try them. You will be delighted with how darn good they are! On a chilly October night, after a hot sauna and while enjoying a good friends‘ company there’s just nothing better tasting than these. Maybe next year I’ll get that Pumpkin Gnocchi recipe…
2 links of Tim McDonough’s homemade brats (from the store on the Island, if you are off-Island, use the tastiest brats available). Slice each in half longways to open, flatten slightly and place on grill with casing side up. Grill until mostly cooked through then flip so the casing side is down on the grill. Top with some sauteed finely diced onions (sauteed in butter on the stove in advance). Drizzle some mild picante sauce on top then let grill a few minutes more. Add slices of Velveeta cheese, cook for a few minutes then turn off the grill, close the lid – have a beer and let sit until the cheese is mostly melted. To serve: wrap in a tortilla, burrito-style. “Don’t waste all that good flavor with a bun.” Mr. H. said… and he was right.