Brownies the Size of Rhode Island Located in Charlevoix, Michigan!

Left side of mural

Friday, July 30, 2021

It was the last day of my second trip to Michigan since the pandemic started.

I wasn’t going to Charlevoix again because I’d already been there twice on Wednesday. I swear more people were walking or driving up and down Bridge Street than on the streets in Manhattan when my mom and I drove through there on a Friday afternoon in September 1986. (Seriously, this is almost not hyperbole.)

Bridge Street is aptly named. The Charlevoix Memorial Drawbridge spans the canal connecting Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, and it opens and closes every half hour, backing up traffic for at least a couple dozen blocks.

Because it was my last day in Michigan, I decided to walk on the shores of Lake Michigan rather than hunt for parking spaces in Charlevoix, Petoskey, or Harbor Springs then weave in and out of pedestrians along the sidewalks. I’d done my shopping and didn’t need any more caramel corn, stationery, or books.

Between Petoskey and Charlevoix, I stopped at a couple of parks and hiked along Lake Michigan, taking pictures and getting my feet wet.

After I left the second park, I planned to return to my mom’s in Petoskey. But that meant crossing traffic that was heading west so I could go east. It would be clear one way, but never both ways at the same time. So, I headed west, planning to make a left-hand turn into a parking lot, then make a right-hand turn and head back to Petoskey.

Before I found a place to turn around, I was almost to Charlevoix. I decided to keep going.

Center of mural

I parked before the Charlevoix Memorial Drawbridge, my strategy to avoid the long line of cars waiting for the bridge to open and close every half hour.

I crossed the bridge on foot and walked to My Grandmother’s Table, a bakery, café, and coffee bar located just on the other side of the bridge. I’d thought about this small eatery when I’d made the decision to keep heading to Charlevoix. Along the inside wall of the café was a stunning mural, its color palate suggesting delicate confections and scrumptious food. If the desserts and food were only half as delectable as the mural, my money and time would be wisely spent.

Right side of mural

“I’m here for dessert,” I said to a man in a white chef’s coat, making an effort to speak to him and not to the mural to the right of me. At 2:30 in the afternoon, their dessert trays were mostly bare. A few cookies sat on two trays and one large brownie, the size of Rhode Island, sat on a third tray.

“This is the best brownie,” the man in the white chef’s coat said, pointing to the lone chocolate rectangle sitting on a white paper doily.

It was so big. “Can you cut it in half?” I asked. He looked perplexed. Maybe he hadn’t heard me because of the mask I was wearing. I asked again.

“Well—” he said, then stopped talking.

“I’d like to eat half today and the other half tomorrow.”

“Well—” he said again, struggling to find some words.

I thought, “How hard can it be to cut the brownie in half?” Halfway through that thought, I had a moment of clarity and added, “I want to buy the whole brownie. I’d just like it cut in half.”

“Oh, okay.” He smiled and put it on a plate. He’d thought I wanted to buy only half the brownie—silly man. He pointed to a space behind me. “You can cut it if you’d like. There are knives over there.”

I turned and had a moment of surrealism. I looked at a silverware caddy filled with utensils and straws. During the early days of the pandemic these caddies had been spirited away and hidden behind counters, so when I ordered takeout, I needed to ask for utensils or straws. Now, like indoor dinning, the caddies had reappeared. I grabbed a fork and a knife. I cut my brownie in half, and the chef wrapped a piece of plastic over my plate. Even though indoor dining was open, I walked outside and sat down in their outdoor eating area.

I enjoyed the best brownie I’ve ever eaten. I only ate half of it, so I could enjoy the other half the next morning as I drove back to Wisconsin.

I returned to the café to tell the man in the white chef’s coat that it was the best brownie. Again, I reminded myself to talk to the man, not the mural. I asked if I could take a picture of the mural on the wall. “Of course,” he said, and we both turned to look at it.

The German shepherd that made me do a double take

I aimed my phone at the mural, but stopped before clicking. A German shepherd lay on the black-and-white tiled floor. I moved my phone to look at him. The dog wasn’t real—it was part of the mural. But he looked so real, I thought, “If a patron dropped food on the floor, the dog would rise and gobble it up.” The dog was the only image on the whimsical mural that looked realistic. He was part of the painting, yet apart from the painting. He reminded me of myself during my trip in this pandemic—part of the world, yet apart from the world.

[The mural, 35 feet wide and 12 feet tall, was painted by Gary Markley, a local artist from Torch Lake, Michigan. He strived to recreate the painting as its original artist Anton Pieck (1895-1987) intended it. A Dutch artist, Pieck’s paintings have a Currier & Ives quaintness that depict 1800s European life. My Grandmother’s Table: Facebook Page. To see information about three charming, independently owned bookstores in Michigan, click on the name of each bookstore: Between the Covers in Harbor Springs, Round Lake Bookstore in Charlevoix, McLean and Eakin in Petoskey.]

Bungy Jumping with an Electric Pressure Cooker

My sister bought an electric pressure cooker two weeks ago. She cooked sweet potato curry, steel-cut oats, and polenta. “Yum, yum, and yum,” she said.

A couple of years ago, my husband wanted one. I didn’t. I liked cooking the old-fashioned way.

But my sister’s been sharing her excitement about cooking with it, along with photos of her pressure-cooked meals. She tells me it cooks fast.

My closed mind cracks. I babysit grandchildren and write. On days my grandchildren are with me, I cook breakfast and lunch, so I’ve no interest in spending more time cooking supper. On days my grandchildren aren’t with me, I catch up on my writing and don’t want to stop to cook supper.

“It was on sale and with my membership discount, I paid $60 for it,” my sister says.

“Could I get one for that price? Could you order it for me? I’ll send you a check.”

Fifteen minutes later, she texts me a picture of the completed order with Merry Christmas written across it, so nice.

Monday morning, I tell my husband my sister bought me an electric pressure cooker and it’s being delivered today. He’s excited. We hope it arrives early enough to use it to cook supper because we bought ingredients to make green chili soup.

My green chili soup looks just like the photo in the recipe magazine.

It arrives at 4:00 p.m. Plenty of time.

I call my sister to thank her and get some beginner’s advice. “This appliance has more buttons than the jet you fly.”

“I don’t think so,” she says. She’s a pilot who flies people around in a private jet.

She answers my questions and hangs up.

A moment later my text alert chirps. She’s sent me a picture of the flight deck in the Falcon 900 she flies, with the caption, Pressure cooker on steroids. I concede because the instrument panel looks like someone took hundreds of buttons from the cookers and pasted them all over the inside of the cockpit.

I read the warnings and instructions provided in the two slim manuals. My sister has forewarned me the instructions need backup. She’s watched YouTube videos about using pressure cookers, so I watch a couple of short videos on getting started with the kitchen appliance that’s going to revolutionize my cooking time.

I call my sister, again.

“Hello, pressure-cooker hotline. How may I assist you today?”

“Did you do the test with the three cups of water?” I ask.

“Oh, yes,” she answers.

So, I do the water test and successfully cook three cups of water in my cooker. Next up, green chili soup.

The first step is to sauté the meat. I add one tablespoon of oil, push the sauté button, and add the meat. The meat is cooking, but it’s definitely not sauteing.

I’m nervous. I imagine the soup having to be scooped into the garbage as inedible. I once told a woman who complimented a meal I cooked for ten, marveling at how it all came together, “Cooking for dinner guests is my idea of bungy jumping.”

Turns out I was supposed to add the meat when the digital display said, Hot. Because I didn’t, the pot didn’t heat up properly. I shouldn’t have skipped the chart about the cooking options when I read the instructions. It’s not an irredeemable mistake. I make another jump at it, following the instructions, and sauté the next batch of meat with better results.

Before I start the pressure-cooking stage, I call my sister again.

“Yes,” she says, drawing the word out in a bemused manner, teasing me.

“This isn’t the professional hotline greeting I received earlier.” We both laugh.

“I’m making corn on the cob in my cooker,” she says.

“You’re light years ahead of me.”

“No, only a week and a half,” she counters.

“Remember, when I finally got an answering machine, and one of the family said, ‘I can’t believe the Waltons got an answering machine’?”

“Good point,” she says.

“I put all the ingredients in the pot before I push the pressure-cooker button, right?” I realized, considering how a pressure cooker works, it’s a dumb question, but the sauté phase left me in need of hand-holding.

“Oh, yes,” she answers, “and secure the lid too.”

I add the rest of the ingredients, secure the lid, and select the correct settings. I must wait thirty minutes to find out if this is going to be a thrilling bungy jump.

I wash dishes while I wait and realize I haven’t stopped once to stir, add ingredients, or adjust the heat. I chop cilantro and slice radishes for garnishes without interruption. The cooker is self-sufficient. I’m ecstatic. I actually have time to join my husband in the family room.

“It smells really good,” he says.

The cooker chimes. I quick release the pressure and wait for the float valve to descend, indicating it’s safe to remove the lid. I hold my breath for the final yank of my bungy jump.

The spicy smell of the tomatillo-based broth swirls out of the cooker. The green chili soup looks like the photo in the recipe magazine. Taste buds are sated.

After dinner I peruse the internet for Indian curry recipes. I’ve never had curry, but I’m in a daring mood. My cooker and I are taking our next bungy jump this weekend, and for an extra thrill we’ll be cooking a batch of rice a few hours before we whip up the curry