Bell Curve

In August, I fell in love with Colorado.

We spent nine days making a circuit of the state, beginning in Denver and heading west to Glenwood Springs before sunrise to hike Hanging Lake.

As flatlanders, I’m not sure any of our attempts at acclimating could’ve quite prepared us for backpacking the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The thirty-pound packs and steep inclines frayed our quads and shortened our fuses; the altitude made me so nauseous the first day that I had to lie down for two hours before I felt human again.

But I’d do it again for the perfect, perfect backcountry campsite we found below Buckskin Pass.

For the mountainside conversations we stopped for along the way—with a fifty-something graduate of my high school (!), then a fellow film photography aficionado (!).

For all the impish marmots and pika we befriended.

For the rock-solid sense of partnership that comes from setting up and breaking down camp with someone else—that repetitive ballet of unpacking and re-packing, unpacking and re-packing.

And, oh my God, for the way real food tastes (and a real bed feels) after two and a half days in the wilderness. It’s a beautiful, humbling, reverent kind of pain I can’t wait to feel again.

Cameras: Mamiya 6, Fuji X100
Film: Kodak Portra 400 and 160

Grown in Detroit

A month after wandering the lofty halls of Eastern Market, it’s the people that I remember above the food, mouthwatering though it all was. (Although, of course, I do still dream about the carrot cake from Avalon International Breads.)

I remember the persistent, lighthearted hustle of the salesmen at Mrs. Pruitt’s Cha Cha Salsa; our warm conversation with the proprietor of Sweet Potato Sensations; and the sweet, soft-spoken kids of Grown in Detroit, who’d been learning how to tend a vegetable garden, and how to sell the produce they’d grown.

Upon returning to Chicago, we preserved the memory of our Eastern Market trip in the sweetest vehicle possible: ice cream. In doing so, I obtained proof for my theory that the sweet tanginess of sugared-up rhubarb would couple nicely with the rich tanginess of goat cheese. Once cooked, the vibrant red stalks we picked out in Michigan faded to a gorgeous pink swirl, which I managed to immortalize in a couple of snapshots—pictures that, at this point, serve as the only evidence this quart of ice cream ever existed.

Cameras: Fuji X100, Canon 6D

GOAT CHEESE ICE CREAM WITH A MICHIGAN RHUBARB SWIRL
Makes 1 quart
Ice cream adapted from David Lebovitz and Food52, rhubarb swirl from Melissa Clark

Ingredients:

Goat Cheese Ice Cream
– 2 cups heavy cream
– 1 cup whole milk
– 3/4 cup granulated sugar
– pinch of salt
– 5 egg yolks
– 6 oz. goat cheese
– 1 tsp. vanilla
Rhubarb Swirl
– 3/4 pound rhubarb, diced
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 1 tsp. vanilla

Preparation:

Goat Cheese Custard
1) Before you begin, set the goat cheese in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl and pour in the vanilla.
2) Heat the cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks.
3) Before the cream mixture reaches a boil, whisk some of the warm cream into the egg yolks, then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan, whisking quickly all the while.
4) Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
5) Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer over the goat cheese. Stir until the goat cheese has melted and is fully incorporated into the custard; chill overnight.
Rhubarb Swirl
6) In a medium saucepan, bring the rhubarb to a simmer along with 1 cup sugar. Cook until the rhubarb is tender and has begun releasing its juices, but is not yet falling apart (about 5-7 minutes).
7) Using a slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to a bowl. Continue simmering the juices until syrupy, about 10 minutes more.
8) Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and chill overnight.
Ice Cream
9) Freeze the goat cheese custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
10) Layer the ice cream with the chilled rhubarb in an appropriately-sized container (a loaf pan works perfectly), then swirl the rhubarb into the ice cream with a butter knife.
11) Freeze and enjoy!

Detroit vs. Everyone

On Sunday, Detroit wrung itself out and started to dry under warm rays of sunlight. I was glad for that, considering that we’d be spending the day outdoors, exploring two of the city’s public art projects.

Our first stop was the backyard and garage that Ukrainian immigrant Dmytro Szylak converted into a joyful place called Hamtramck Disneyland. We stood quietly in the alley, soaking in the bright primary colors and whimsical artifacts in the early-morning light.

Our second stop was the Heidelberg Project, a blocks-long burst of color and creative energy surrounded by neighborhoods that exist in stark, sobering contrast to the Project. Its mission? To improve a struggling community through collaborative artwork. Even before you’ve walked past the placard reading “Detroit vs. Everyone,” it’s clear that the stakes of that mission are incredibly high.

But man cannot live on art alone. Over the course of the day, we’d go on to devour radish and cream cheese scones at Sister Pie, pulled pork and brisket sandwiches at Slows Bar BQ, and a healthy sampling of filled Lebanese breads at the New Yasmeen Bakery in Dearborn. If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood, you’d be well-served to do the same.

Camera: Fuji X100

Detroit’s Largest Art Object

Detroit is rarely in the headlines for its suitability as a road-trip destination, but despite its highly-publicized and very real problems, the city has so much to offer. Inspired by a few different write-ups, we made a long weekend of it recently, driving five hours east before reaching the beautiful, crumbling Motor City limits.

On Friday night, we fueled up on pierogies, potato pancakes, and dill pickle soup at the Polish Village Cafe, then holed up in our little studio loft in Hamtramck. We were steeling ourselves for the next day’s forecast of driving rain and unrelenting wind; we had a lot to do, and as self-respecting Chicagoans, we refused to let weather get in the way.

As sheets of rain fell around us early Saturday morning, we ducked into Detroit Institute of Bagels for life-giving cups of Anthology coffee, and a rosemary-olive oil bagel piled high with goat cheese, bacon, arugula, and red onion jam. Back in the deluge, we raced to the Guardian Building and found respite from the rain under its awe-inspiring ceiling.

We lost track of time wandering the covered sheds of rambling, open-air Eastern Market—which I’ll tell you more about soon—and People’s Records, where we picked up a handful of soul albums to spin back at home. And then came the Fisher Building, for a free tour given by the passionate employees of Pure Detroit. We listened, rapt, to the story of the place billed as Detroit’s largest art object, which to us seemed an indisputable claim.

I won’t lie; we were a little bit crushed after braving still more precipitation on the way to the Motown Museum, only to find that their tours were sold out for the day. But the short-rib pizza and sour beer we found at Detroit’s Jolly Pumpkin outpost made almost everything better—even the pouring rain that wouldn’t leave us alone till we were well on our way to Sunday.

Camera: Fuji X100

Growing Up | Root Vegetable Tarte Tatin

As blasphemous as it may sound, I love getting older.

With each passing year, I’ve gained a better sense of who I am and what my place in the world is. Leaving my early twenties, though, has meant leaving behind a sense of endless possibility, as each choice I’ve made has narrowed my set of future options, one by one.

Fortunately, that closing of doors hasn’t given me claustrophobia. Quite the opposite: it makes me feel focused, and free of that creeping sense of panic I always associated with having too many options. Instead, I get to settle into the enjoyable work of getting good at the hobbies and interests I’ve chosen very intentionally to pursue, as well as deepening the relationships that anchor my little world.

That focus couldn’t have come at a better time, because while there seemed to be no ceiling to my energy levels a few years ago…oh, how things have changed! In my early twenties, I was able to exhaustively analyze my endless options and still have the stamina to accept every happy hour invitation that came my way. Now? It may have taken more seasons of overcommitment and burnout than I care to admit, but I’ve finally learned what it means to prioritize.

Over the winter, my priorities were all thematically related to self-care; as I trained for a half-marathon in the Blue Ridge Mountains (which went swimmingly, by the way!), my days revolved around workouts, nourishing meals and early bedtimes. When I crossed the finish line, my springtime priorities all shifted to professional pursuits—acing the financial planning course I was taking, and getting really good at my new job. Now that summer is undeniably upon us, I’ll be prioritizing adventure and play. That means drafting itineraries for our summer trips to Detroit and Colorado, and dusting off my cameras for the occasion.

For a long time, I’d be haunted by guilt when I (inevitably) failed to maintain equal focus on forty things at once. But now I know that getting older means picking your battles, and picking your pleasures too.

A few words on the root vegetable tarte tatin you see pictured here. I spent a full afternoon on my first attempt at this recipe: mixing and rolling a disk of all-butter dough; slicing, seasoning and roasting the vegetables; melting sugar into a caramel that would mingle with fresh rosemary and sage in the bottom of the pan. And as I transferred the assembled dish from fridge to oven, it slipped from my hands and landed upside-down on the floor.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things land upside-down on the floor. If you can, it’s best to give yourself a few minutes to mourn the mess and all it could’ve been, and then start again. That’s something I’m still learning how to do.

Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400, pushed one stop