Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#18 Learn To Cook From Scratch

Cooking from scratch....that phrase conjures up many images. Portraits of flour dusted floors, counters and aprons come to mind. Splatters of cake batter or tomato sauce clinging to walls, cabinets and perhaps the ceiling. Eggs shells laying cracked in a bowl with garlic peels and discarded vegetable trimmings. Pots rapidly boiling over, burning and crusting on the stove top along with plenty of grease spatter. Every imaginable free space from the counters to the shelves to the sink filled with bowls and blenders, spoons and plates. The cook covered head to toe in a wide variety of congealed food debris. In my family we call that an Italian kitchen.

Cooking Quote
Ethnicity aside, this applies to just about any kitchen where the chef is a cook from scratch kind of guy/gal. The messier the kitchen, the better the cook it seems. As for cooking from scratch.... how would you define it? For me, cooking from scratch is the art of trying not to use pre-packaged ingredients such as chili seasoning packets, ready made dressings, marinades or cake mixes etc. I do use canned tomatoes and canned tomato sauce though as well as powdered chicken broth but not much else. For others, cooking from scratch is a strict code of not using any processed food at all. However you may define it, one thing is for sure, cooking from scratch in modern times is very different from cooking from scratch in the past.

I can personally attest that if my family had lived in the olden days, we probably would have starved to death or been reluctant vegetarians. You see, I am not a fan of cutting raw meat and while I do it, there is no way I would have been able to pluck feathers from a dead chicken, clean out a fish or skin and de-bone a dead animal. No way. We would have lived off herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and chicken eggs because that is all I know how to grow or handle. Maybe some onions and peppers if I remembered to water the crops. Maybe.... So, yea, we would have been dead.

"Cooking, at best, is both an expression of self and a gift of love." 
Unknown Author

Anyways, I grew up around some great cooks. My grandmother and my grandfather were both great cooks. My great grandfather was right off the boat from Italy so he taught my great grandmother and later my grandmother authentic Italian cooking. My grandmother was Slovak and Irish but I would have put a large sum of money down that upon tasting her food you would have never guessed she wasn't a speck of Italian. She was that good.

My father was also a great cook. I believe my mother was a pretty good cook too. My step mother was an actual trained chef and my parents owned their own catering business for a few years. I also worked in many restaurants with great chefs. I was surrounded by incredible, made from scratch food everywhere I turned yet as a teenager, all I knew how to make were eggs and sandwiches. That was about as from scratch as I got. ( I feel so bad too because I loved cooking eggs and my poor father would be stuck eating a carton of eggs a few times a week cuz no one else in the house would eat them including me. I didn't start eating eggs until I was pregnant with my son.)

When I found myself with my own family, we started out like many other young families do. On Cor meals, TV Dinners, Banquet pot pies, Hamburger Helper, Ramen Noodles, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Tyson chicken nuggets and Pepperidge Farm cakes were on my revolving menu. I found myself hoarding all sorts of leftovers from my parent's and grandparent's houses just because I was so tired of the constant taste of processed foods. Don't get me wrong, from time to time I still make processed foods but not often. We just aren't meant to digest all those artificial chemicals and preservatives.

Cooking Quote
I decided it was my duty, my birthright, to learn to cook from scratch just like my ancestors did. ( my parents and grandparents) I started off slow. So....Toast can be tricky if it is not toasted to the perfect degree of toastiness. Too little toasting and the bread becomes a weird textured cross between soft and crisp and too much toasting kind of reminds you of chewing on a charcoal briquette.... not that I have ever done that but I'm guessing that is what a charcoal briquette would taste like.

Nah, I'm just fucking with yas. I made toast before. I needed something to go with all the eggs I used to make. However, I do not remember for sure what my first endeavor was in the world of "from scratch" cooking. I do remember attempting my grandmother's halupkis early on. I used to grill the hell out of my grandmother for her recipes. She would just smile and say if she gave me all her recipes, I would never come down and see her. I told her that was not possible. She was stuck with me.

Cooking Quote
Finally after much begging and pleading she explained the secret to her halupkis was parboiling the rice then mixing it in with the ground beef. For the sauce, she used 2 cans of condensed tomato soup and a stick of butter. I can do that! So, with my new knowledge I went home and boiled my head of cabbage. Unfortunately, I filled the pot with water and began boiling it before adding the head of cabbage. Yea....when I added the head of cabbage to the boiling water it spilled all over the stove top and splattered onto my feet. That burns. I also used instant rice so parboiling it then mixing it with the meat and proceeding to bake it for an hour made it way too mushy. I also forgot to season the meat so it was incredibly bland. The sauce came out fantastic though.

I noted everything I screwed up. Add salt, pepper and garlic to the meat. Put the cabbage in the pot then add water, then boil. If using instant rice, do not parboil. Eggs are great for binding the meat and so are panko bread crumbs. It took me a few tries but now my halupkis taste just like my grandmother's. Some other recipes were not so easy to master. Some took years of fine tuning. I learned I am not good with dough. I do not have the patience to roll it out the right way.

Chili With All The Fixins including Homemade Tortilla Strips and Homemade Pico De Gallo.

I am also leary about just pan frying chicken. When making my franchaise, parmesean or panko chicken, I fry it on each side for two minutes then bake it all in a pan for another 30 minutes. I am not the best cake decorator in the world. It took me 13 years to master my chili. It took me 19 years to master my red tomato sauce. I suck at making fudge. I burn most things I try to grill because I like a big fire and lack the patience to wait until the fire has died before throwing my meat on the grill. I banned myself from ever owning a toaster over after setting three of them on fire. I recently learned I cannot bake a cheesecake. I can only make the no bake type but those always come out excellent.

Pancakes with bacon
Pancakes with Bacon.
However, I make incredible made from scratch cakes and frostings. My alfredo, piccata and scampi sauces are better than most restaurants. My homemade baked beans and pulled pork could give some BBQ joints a run for their money. My homemade dressings, especially my Caesar dressing are better than any bottled stuff on the market. I make cold and baked dips like nobody's business. My meatballs, meatloaf, hamburgers and salisbury steaks are always a popular request. I could go on but I won't. Let's just say what I'm good at I'm great at. What I'm not good at I'm terrible at. (Like ending sentences with prepositions.)

Cooking Quote

Cooking from scratch is just as much an art form as painting or sculpting. Time, effort and tender loving care go into every endeavor. It's a genuine pleasure to create something with your own two hands then serve it to your companions. When someone puts an effort into making something from scratch, it comes from a good place. It comes from the heart. You can taste that. I can attest that one of the ways I show affection is through my cooking. Cooking from scratch not only challenges your skills but promotes creativity. You can experiment with different flavors. You can attempt a new cuisine. You can learn new techniques.You can create your own personal masterpieces.

"There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves." 
Thomas Wolfe 

Sure, there are always going to be failures but without failure, there cannot be victory. It is a learning process. It is an expression of oneself. It bonds people together in friendship, romance, and love. Think about it. We celebrate occasions with meals. We court lovers with meals. We mourn losses over meals. Sharing a meal provokes conversation, laughter and fulfillment. In fact, a great home cooked meal is one of the most rewarding and positive experiences a person can enjoy. It doesn't have to be a complicated or extravagant feast every time either. Sometimes the simplest form of home cooked food is the perfect end to a hectic day.

Rather than go on about everything I can cook from scratch I am going to share some knowledge and tips from the trials and tribulations I have experienced on my journey from my novice days to the present day as a expert cook. (At least I like to think so.)

What Every Cook Needs To Know

1. There is a difference between baking soda and baking powder. One cannot be interchanged for the other. I once made a batch of chocolate chip cookies that would have been declared illegal in 13 states due to their capacity to be used as assault weapons.

2. Putting taco shells in a toaster oven then forgetting about them for 20 minutes can sometimes cause big flames to shoot out of the toaster oven.

3. Sometimes when making homemade whipped cream with your Kitchen Aid mixer you end up with a liquidy homemade butter instead. It happens when you become distracted with things like Facebook, texting, a Mark Wahlberg movie or the little bunnies nibbling grass in your yard. Once the peaks are stiff, cease and desist all blending. And for god sakes pay attention. Heavy cream is expensive....unless Mark Wahlberg is on TV then fuck it. I'll suck up the $5.00.

4. If you think no one will ever notice that little sliver of eggshell that got in your batter or pan think again. Chipping a tooth is not a sign of affection unless you are into BDSM. Always crack your eggs in a separate bowl then add to the pan or mixing bowl.

5. You can burn water. Well...not really but putting a pot of water on to boil for pasta then taking a three hour nap is a sure way to destroy a pot. In fact putting anything on the stove to boil then taking a nap should be frowned upon.

Penne Alfredo
Penne Alfredo
6. If any recipe calls for wine, make sure you have a full bottle. 1 cup for the dish and 3 cups for yourself is usually what the recipe calls for. Well my recipes say that, not sure what Martha Stewart's say.

7. If you are a pyromaniac who enjoys gradually squirting an entire bottle of lighter fluid on your charcoal grill just to see the flames go wild, don't fret when you burn your Rib Eyes. They can be saved. Slice them up and place in a baking dish with two cups of beef broth, a packet of onion soup mix and a couple of dabs of Worcestershire sauce. Bake on 300 for an hour or two. They make great drippy sandwiches and also taste great on a heaping mound of mashed potatoes.

8. Spaghetti sauce can travel at a rate of 186,000 miles per second. Always use a lid when simmering unless you enjoy pulling out the ladder to clean the ceiling, the walls, the light fixtures, the door frames, the dog etc. Also, stir occasionally because if you burn the sauce you are SOL. It tastes like burnt spaghetti sauce.

9. When making a made from scratch cake or cookies, gradually add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients. Dumping the entire bowl of dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients then firing up the mixer will only make you look like a coke whore on a Saturday night. You will be blowing that stuff out your nose for days. Trust me.

10. Always cover unbreaded chicken before baking it unless you enjoy eating really chewy string or have a choking fetish. If you want to brown it, remove the foil the last 10 minutes of baking.

11. Wear gloves when dicing jalapenos or other hot peppers. You already know you are going to rub your eyes because sometimes our brain likes to fuck with us just because it can. Make sure you remove the gloves before rubbing your eyes unless you enjoy severe pain....the whole BDSM thing again.

Sauteed Spinach and Lazy Chicken Scampi
12. When making a roux, (a flour and butter thickening agent) make sure you have the wet ingredient (usually broth) ready to go. Gradually add it while whisking constantly. Otherwise, your thighs won't be the only thing with cellulite. Nobody enjoys lumpy anything. Some things can't be helped, but your sauce can be. (If only I could whisk my thighs.....hmmmmm???)

13. Always store white pepper and garlic powder on opposite sides of the room. Once, my father almost wiped out the entire family on Thanksgiving by adding two heaping teaspoons of "garlic powder" to the mashed potatoes.

14. If your dog won't eat it, don't serve it.

15. While we are on the subject of dogs, a dog can eat a stick of butter or a sandwich in 2.5 seconds thus causing the inevitable "Where the eff is the sandwich I just made?" syndrome. Don't worry, you are not crazy. If your dog spends the next ten minutes licking their chops it is because they are guilty as charged. Never under estimate the reach of a dog.

16. Never, ever over cook pasta unless you were that kid that enjoyed eating glue in elementary school. Al dente is always the way to go. If you are not sure, during the cooking process spoon a noodle out of the water. (Wait for it to cool slightly because that shit is hot!) Taste it. If it is slightly chewy but not mushy then you are at al dente stage which is perfect.

17. If your 2 year old wants a Cookie Monster cake for his birthday, leave it to the professionals. I think I scarred my kid for life with the deformed Cookie Monster cake I made him because he has not mentioned the cookie monster since. Thankfully my mother got a professional cake made.

18. Texture is the difference between eating a great dish and eating something that could have been rolled around on the Jersey shore then put in a bowl or on a platter. If a recipe calls for something at room temperature, be sure it is at room temp. If a recipe calls for something to be mixed for ten minutes, mix it for ten minutes. This is where a Kitchen Aid mixer becomes a great investment. Not only are they work horses but your triceps will thank you as well.

19. When using a rolling pin, be sure to grip it at the handles and not the actual rolling part. Accidentally rolling over your middle finger f$%^$#ing hurts.

20. Make sure your pot holders are intact and free of holes. There a very few things as painful as grabbing a tray out of the oven and burning your finger because your favorite potholder has a huge hole in it. In fact the only thing more painful is the stubbornness in refusing to let go of the tray so you don't drop your food.  (It would make more sense to put the tray back in the oven and get a new, hole-less pot holder but.....why make sense?)

21. Chicken can catch on fire while baking in the oven. Sometimes that can frighten the children.

Breakfast of Champions!
22. If you have a really hard lump of brown sugar, do not throw it into the cookie batter expecting it to dissolve in the liquid ingredients. It won't. You might as well throw a rock in the batter. You'd have more luck.

23. All the advice out there about preventing the fumes from stinging your eyes while chopping onions is bullshit. I've tried burning candles, wearing sunglasses, not chopping off the root, rubbing the knife with lemon, placing a plastic bag over my head, and offering the onion some of my secret stash of chocolate. None of it works. The only thing that works somewhat is chilling the onion first. Let's just say it has taken years of practice and several deep cuts but I can now cut an onion pretty freakin fast.

24. Turkeys are like pinatas. They are full of surprises. Always check the cavities before baking. I say this because the first time I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving, I also proceeded to cook the bag with the gizzards and the bag with the neck in it. I also baked the free bag of stuffing and free bag of broth that were included with the turkey that I had no clue about. Surprise! Happy Turkey Day....not!

25. All "Made for TV" kitchen gadgets suck. Do not waste your money. I managed to destroy a Slap Chop in 30 seconds the first time I used it. Plastic pieces and springs became lethal projectiles flying through my kitchen the second I slapped down on that onion. Both my son and I dove to the floor to take cover. Needless to say, there was no chop after my slap.

26. You can burn food in a slow cooker. It once took me two days to chisel off the pork tenderloin stuck to the bottom of my crock pot because I thought cooking it overnight on high with very little juice was an okay idea. Who knew I was going to sleep 13 hours that night.

27. I can cook an amazing breakfast drunk off my ass at 2:00 AM and not injure myself once, nor burn anything. Ask my friends or my kids. Steak, scrambled eggs and pancakes anyone? Just don't ask me to fry potatoes. I suck at them drunk or sober.

28. Be gentle with salt. You can always add more but you cannot remove it once the damage is done. Always make sure the lids are secure on all your shakers as well. I accidentally poured have a shaker of salt into the beef stew I was making once upon a time. I tried serving it to my family anyway. They noticed. Their blood pressure was also 190/110

Meatballs Al Forno
29. The seeds of a hot pepper are the most incendiary. Try to avoid them as well as the white fleshy veins. I even pick seeds out of my hot pepper flakes..... mostly because I am a wuss. But.... also because I made few people cry when I was first learning to make chili, myself included.

30. Patience is a virtue in any home cooked meal. I have learned that the hard way. Over the years I have become very disciplined in the cooking arena. Well except when I attempt any Martha Stewart recipe. I may be guilty of opening the swear word vault on those days. Where the fuck does she come up with some of her ideas? (I will say, the few recipes of her's I have succeeded at were fantastic and I do love her. Just think she rides the crazy train.....a lot.)

To all novice cooks out there just beginning.....have fun with it. Laugh at the failures and take pride in your successes. Trust me, it will get easier. Happy Cooking!!


Potato Leek Soup

Thursday, July 11, 2013

#114 Sail To Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard

It is Wednesday October 11, 2006. My friend Gina and I are in the midst of a tour of Cape Cod. On this day we are being bused to Woods Hole, MA. We are about to set sail to the beautiful, laid back island of Martha's Vineyard, MA. Let's just say, it is very hard for me to contain my enthusiasm. It may sound weird and I know I have mentioned this before, but sometimes you find yourself drawn to an area for unexplained reasons. It is almost like this invisible energy is beckoning you to make the journey to this place because a piece of your soul has been lingering there, waiting patiently for you to come and retrieve it.

I don't is difficult to put into words but there are places in this world that I want to visit because they look like places I would enjoy and there are places in this world that I want to visit because I feel like a part of me is already there. Maybe it sounds hokey but it's how I feel and I have had this sense about me since I was a child. All it takes is a trigger; it could be a picture, an article, a name.... anything really, for this feeling to wash over me and take root in my mind. There are pictures of places I have such a kinship to that it is almost eerie yet I have no idea where they are because there is no description or locale listed. There are places I read about that instantly give me quivers, like I've been there before. It's inexplicable. With Martha's Vineyard, I knew where it was but I knew very little about the island to be honest. I knew scenes from Jaws were filmed there. I knew Jackie O had a home on the island but that was about it. I cannot recall what the trigger was that drew me to this island but there definitely was one.

Anyways, enough ramblings from the mind of Fess, back to my journey. On this day in Massachusettes, the weather is sunny and there is not a cloud in the sky. The temperature is an above average 70 degrees, the air breezy but peaceful. I could not have asked for a more perfect day to visit the island I think happily as we exit the bus. Our driver needs to bring the huge bus onto the ferry. We watch from the deck as he drives it onto the boat. It is amusing seeing this big charter bus board the little ferry. He does a great job. I would have totally taken out the row of cars lined up next to where the bus was going to be parked. People should be very thankful Chrissy does not have "drive a bus" on her life to do list. Just sayin....could be dangerous.

Woods Hole, MA

Ferry to Martha's Vineyard
Getting ready to sail to the Vineyard. I love boat rides.

Wood Hole, MA
Now that is a clipper!! Amazing! 

Nobska Lighthouse leaving Woods Hole, MA.

Miss Maddie, my puggy friend. 

The 45 minute boat ride is so relaxing and pleasant. Gina and I sit outside on the deck relishing the infinite view of the dark blue Atlantic beneath the clear blue sky. The breeze is massaging and twirling my hair around but it feels so good. I slowly breath in the salty air. This is serenity I think. Next to me, a little pug is sitting with her owner. Her name is Maddie and she is so friendly and adorable. She is also very photogenic. She and I become instant friends. We hang for the remainder of the boat ride.

As we approach the island I am astounded. My heart is pounding with excitement. We are entering Oak Bluffs Harbor. To the right of us sailboats are anchored in the jetty, calmly drifting atop the water. To the left is our first view of Oak Bluffs. It was so picturesque. My pulse races. I feel the connection immediately. Yes...I was definitely meant to visit this place. The anticipation of exploring every inch of the entire island was more than I could stand. I was eager to soak in all the amazing energy emanating from the island. My soul needed some healing. It needed to fulfill a part that was missing.

Oak Bluffs
Boats anchored in the jetty. 

Oak Bluffs
Entering the harbor of Oak Bluffs. The pic does not do the view any justice at all. 

Our first stop on the island was the Gingerbread Cottage Campground of Oak Bluffs. It was within walking distance of the harbor so our tour guide Bill led the way. Our bus driver was going to meet us there after retrieving the bus from the ferry. As we came upon the quaint little structures, I couldn't help but smile. I now understood why they were called gingerbread cottages. They were so vibrant and ornate. The trim could have totally been icing. Most of the cottages consisted of four rooms although there were a few larger cottages on the campground Bill explained. They were built between 1859-1880 by Methodists that had settled on the island. Bill stated there were over 300 cottages situated on the campground.

Most of the cottage owners had already departed for the season although a few residents did remain year round. And while anyone could purchase a cottage, they could not purchase the land on which the cottage is built. The land belongs to the campground association. It was incredibly rare that a cottage was put up for sale anyway Bill informed us. If one were to be offered up for sale, the starting price for one of these cute, cozy, colorful cottages usually started around $500,000. That is a whole lot of dough! We all strolled about admiring the rows and rows of rainbow cottages. As much as I could have spent all day just roaming around this real life version of candy land snapping pictures and admiring the unique handiwork of each cottage, our bus arrived to whisk us off to Edgartown. We had a lot of ground to cover.

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
The Halloween Cottage

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
My Favorite the colors. 

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
Chrissy Cottage...has an outstanding ring to it!

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
The largest cottage on the campground

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
My second favorite. Simple but ornate. Love the balcony. Always wanted one. 

Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard
The color combinations were so cool.

A Penn State Cottage

A borrowed photo of the cottages. 

Another borrowed photo. Love this one too. 

Let me give you some insight into why Edgartown was a "must" for me. You see, I grew up in a family of "Shark" junkies. Some of us suffered from "Jaws Fever" more than others (Aunt Lisa, Dad) but we have all seen the movie many many times. My Aunt Lisa and my father can quote the movie word for word. "You're gonna need a bigger boat." "This was no boating accident." and "Here's to swimming with bow legged women!" are just some of the greetings they give to each other. I knew "Jaws", the mechanical shark, was fondly called Bruce by the cast and crew before I ever saw the movie because my Aunt was always calling my dad Bruce.

I knew that the girl Jaws eats in the beginning of the movie is also named Chrissy. Sometimes I got teased about that. I may have also been a little paranoid about the water, not gonna lie. My father told me for several years after my Aunt saw the movie, she would cry on the shore of the beach in Wildwood every time he and the other cousins would go in the water because Jaws was going to get them. Of course he and the older cousins had fun with that. They would tell her that they saw a fin sticking out of the water. They would  jerk like a shark was grabbing their leg when coming out of the water. I could picture my grandmother sweetly scolding them for doing so.

Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws, also provided the film adaptation of the movie and worked closely with Steven Spielberg during shooting of the movie. With all it's boats, docks, fishing villages and long stretches of pristine beaches, Peter believed Martha's Vineyard was the perfect setting for the fictional Amity Island he wrote about in the book. Many of the external scenes from the movie were shot in Martha's Vineyard. The even brought "Bruce" to the vineyard for some scenes. Edgartown was the first place we visited on the island where I recognized scenes from the movie. We drove over the wooden bridge that Jaws swims under when coming after Michael Brody, whom is swimming in the lagoon. Our tour guide Bill even does his own version of the Jaws theme song for us. I really wish my family could see this place I think.

Jaws business aside, Edgartown is the largest town on the island with the longest stretch of beaches and the biggest harbor. The rich and the famous often visit Edgartown with their fancy yachts. Of course, speaking of the rich and famous, we cannot go without mentioning the most infamous event to take place in Edgartown. It definitely was not that of a mechanical shark named Bruce terrorizing the waters. Chappaquiddick is also considered to be part of Edgartown. Chappaquiddick was the scene of the fatal accident involving Teddy Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne back on July 18, 1969. Mary Jo drowned at the scene while Ted Kennedy swam to shore and returned to his hotel room. There are many conspiracy theories as to what really happened that night but ultimately this scandal and Teddy's inexcusable judgement cost him his bid to run for the Presidency. Bottom line, know one knows for sure what really happened at Chappaquiddick except Ted Kennedy and he took that with him to the grave.

Edgartown Martha's Vineyard
I may have been looking for sharks in the water. Not gonna lie.
Edgartown Martha's Vineyard
One of the beaches of Edgartown. The sand looks so soft.

Edgartown Martha's Vineyard
The bridge Jaws swims under in the movie. I hope that man doesn't get eaten by a shark. 

From Edgartown we drive over to Chillmark and the village of Menemshaw. Even more than Edgartown, Menemshaw was the location of many scenes from the movie Jaws. As soon as I saw the village, I recognized the scenes from the movie where the villagers go shark hunting and Richard Dreyfuss' character Hooper first arrives on the scene. It is not until we actually get off the bus and I walk towards the village that I forget all about the movie and become completely enamored by the rustic charm of this genuine fishing village. This weathered little village is the epitome of New England fishing life. Charter boats, nets, ropes, dredgers, baskets, and just about anything related to fishing is chaotically yet charmingly scattered amongst the piers of this village.

It is rumored that the sun sets the most beautifully from this part of the island. Friends, family and lovers are often seen siting along the docks on blankets, feet dangling from the piers, or standing along the jetty, fishing poles in hand, watching the sun sink into the midnight blue Atlantic. I found myself wishing for a chance to do just that. Perhaps another time. It was not in the cards this trip. I snapped as many pictures as I could of this village because we weren't really supposed to stop here. We were only supposed to drive by it. Bill noticed my animated expression and heard my excitement as we came upon Menemshaw. ( I may have been screaming "JAWS!!" and "This is where Quint's boat was!" and "Hooper told Brody that all those dudes piled into a little boat aren't going to make it out of the harbor alive from that dock." ) He asked the driver to pull over so some of us could get pictures. If I had to choose a favorite part of the island, as difficult a task as that may be, I would have to say my very brief visit to Menemshaw would be at the top of my list.

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
This is one of the my most favorite pictures I have ever taken.

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
In living color....Menemshaw. 

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
Well worn fishing boats taking a rest in the harbor. 

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
A scene right out of Jaws.

Menemshaw Martha's Vineyard
The General Store

Chillmark Martha's Vineyard
A sculpture of King Neptune in Chillmark

From Chillmark and Menemshaw we make our way to the highest point on the island, Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head. As our driver parked the bus, Bill gave us a run down about this part of the island. It is home to a Native American tribe called the Wampanoag. Charlie, an elder Wampanoag, still practices the art of creating scrimshaw, which is jewelry crafted from whale bone. Bill got his scrimshaw cuff links from Charlie and insists Charlie produces some of the most beautiful scrimshaw in the country. He highly recommended we visit his store.

Bill also explains that the rust colored cliffs of Aquinnah consist of clay, the formation a result of a glaciers that covered the island 12,000 years prior to our visit. The Gay Head Lighthouse is constructed of brick and clay made from those very cliffs. As we exit the bus and begin our ascent up the hill towards the lookout point and light house, I notice some cute little gift shops and food stands. I spot Charlie's place. I can't wait to go in there and check out scrimshaw. (Cuz honestly, what I was picturing in my head was a little weird. Not gonna lie.)

When we reached the top and glimpsed our first view of the cliffs, Gina and I both gasped. It was absolutely stunning. There were ribbons of charcoal, light grey, rust and blush clay contrasting against the cream colored cliff. We must have stood by the wooden fence for fifteen minutes, just tracing the patterns in the cliffs. I wanted so much to walk on the beach, which was untouched by footprints on this day. I believe Bill had mentioned it was a private beach, not open to tourists, just residents. The connection I was feeling to this place just kept getting stronger, more apparent.

Did I live here in a past life? there a more concentrated energy of people like me living here? People with the qualities of many rolled into one: the old souls, the deep souls, the free spirits, the nature lovers, the people that are passionate to a fault, the walking contradictions, the laid back perfectionists, the intuitive and perceptive yet oblivious, the people that carry the weight of world on their shoulders because they don't know any better, the anxiously calm, the over thinkers, the believers of fate. Could be. I will never know the answer to such a question. I know this. All I can do is seek and experience. I'm okay with that.

Kindred spirits are always drawn together. They will always find each other in a crowd. They are the ones you keep closest to you. They are the ones you never forget. They are the ones that remain in your life in one role or another. They are people; they are places; they are experiences. Suddenly I am torn from my deep thoughts by our tour guide Bill. He has come over to where Gina and I are standing. Gina and he were having a conversation while I was "away". He and Gina were discussing the Kennedys.

Bill points down to the beach. JFK Jr.'s fuselage began washing ashore on that beach after his plane went down in July of '99. His ashes were scattered at sea a few miles off the shores of Aquinnah. My eyes follow Bill's finger as he points to the horizon where JFK Jr. was finally laid to rest. Gina and I become somber. Bill points towards another beach to the left of us. He asks us if we notice the tall pole that looks like a "T" in the distance. We nod. That was Jackie O's home on the island, her daughter owns it now. Jackie had the pole erected so the endangered osprey aka fish hawk could make nests on the platform at the top of the pole. Many residents of the island are having these poles erected to save these birds. As he is speaking I realize JFK Jr's plane practically went down in front of his mother's home. Thankfully she had already passed and was not forced to experience the loss of her beloved son.

Gina and I take some pictures, soak in one more view of the cliffs then go our separate ways to explore the little shops. Most of them are still open for the season. I bought a gorgeous pair of seashell and silver butterfly dangling earrings. Unfortunately since my trip I have lost one so.... I crafted the other one onto a necklace like a pendant. I also purchased an opalescent butterfly sun catcher for my kitchen window. I made my way to Charlie's shop. Bill was right. His hand crafted scrimshaw was incredible. (It wasn't a bunch of bones hanging in a necklace like I was thinking. ) It looked just like ivory. In fact, had Bill not told us it was whale bone, I would have definitely believed it was ivory. I purchase a small pin with an engraving of the Edgartown lighthouse for my scrapbook. It was all I could afford but I felt it important to do business with such a fine man.

For lunch I eat french fries although I am eyeing up the delicious lobster rolls the snack shop is serving. A couple of the elders are eating them. I am gawking at them with lobster envy. The night before we had delicious whole lobsters. I still had a taste for it. I wanted more. However, I just could not bring myself to spend $17.95 for one. I got a pair of earrings, a sun catcher, a T-shirt and a scrimshaw pin for a little over $20.00. I would have that stuff way longer than the lobster I console myself. I start eating my stupid fries. I toss a few to the seagulls sitting on the opposite side of the picnic table from me. Guess the MV seagulls are a little more polite than the Jersey ones. They sit and watch you eat like a dog would, waiting for scraps. Jersey gulls just help themselves.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah
The clay cliffs of Aquinnah. A spectacular view.
Gay Head Cliffs
Gay Head Cliffs....a national landmark. 

Gay Head Lighthouse
Gay Head Lighthouse

Vineyard Sound
Across Vineyard Sound you can see the tail end of the Elizabeth Islands.
Gina and me smiling for the camera before saying goodbye to Aquinnah.

From Aquinnah we make our way to West Tisbury. Along the way Bill tells the bus about the celebrities that have homes on the island. Carly Simon and James Taylor are both residents of MV and even though the couple split long ago, both still have homes...on opposite sides of the island. Newscasters Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace had a homes there. James Cagney and Bill Murray have lived on the island. Joe Kennedy bought mistress Gloria Swanson a home on the island back in the day. He points the home out to us as we pass it. Bill informs us it is the largest home on the entire island. Comedian John Belushi often sought seclusion on the island as did fellow SNL friend Dan Akroyd. Belushi is buried in Abel's Hill Cemetary in Chillmark. Other famous summer residents include Spike Lee, Meg Ryan, President Bill Clinton, Quincey Jones, Larry David and David Letterman. Many famous people seek seclusion on the island because of it's laid back attitude. Yes, people notice them, but there is an unspoken respect for their privacy.

West Tisbury is home to Grange Hall, the equivalent of Christie's in NYC. Many famous auctions take place in the hall including a recent celebrity auction sponsored by Bill and Hilary Clinton. Alley's General Store is also located in West Tisbury. It is an authentic General Store in operation since 1858, a rarity in any part of this country now a days. I was bummed we weren't able to go in there. I love General Stores! West Tisbury also has the most forestation of all the places on the island. In fact, C. S. Lewis was so inspired by Cedar Tree Neck in West Tisbury that he modeled Naria after the forest when writing the Chronicles of Narnia. From West Tisbury we travel to Tisbury and Vineyard Haven. As we are traveling, I look out the window and notice this yard with a goofy white statue in it. I do a double take. There are goofy white statues all over the place. I quick snap a picture while trying to get Gina's attention.

By the time she stops yapping (she talks a lot) and looks over, we have already passed the garden. I tell her I saw weird white statues. She looks at me funny. I turn back to the window. I may have checked my camera to make sure I wasn't going crazy. Yep...there was a picture. It was real after all. Vineyard Haven is just as active as Oak Bluffs. Most of the other places we visited on the island were quiet, it being off season and all. Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and now Vineyard Haven were still pulsing. I would call Vineyard Haven the New Orleans of the island. There are many shops, restaurants and even a movie theater in the village. Down the road there are a bunch of random, weird white statues. (They freaked me out.)

Cedar Tree Neck aka Narnia
Grange Hall

Alley's General Store

Goofy White Statues...turns out it is a gallery. 

From Vineyard Haven we make our way back to Oak Bluffs. The sun will be setting soon. It is October so the days are shorter. The ferry doesn't operate after dusk during the off season. I walk around the harbor one last time while waiting for the ferry to come in to port. I notice a jetty and take a seat near the top. A mother and child are stepping about the rocks a little ways down from me. The child is laughing hysterically as his mother scolds him not to get to close to the water. I think of my own kids. I really need to show them this place. They are old, deep souls like me at the ages of 12 and 13. They always were. (The following year in June of 2007 I do just that. I bring my kids and my parents here for a visit. They loved it just as much as I did.)

Nantucket Sound
My kids and I spotted this clipper sailing through Nantucket Sound on our way to MV.

As I watch the waves crash against the rocks, I start reflecting on my life. If you would have asked me a year ago if I would have found myself in the midst of a separation and eventual divorce, at first, I would say no. However that would not be the honest truth. A little over ten months ago near the holidays something strange happened. It came out of nowhere. I was upstairs in my bedroom creating a scrapbook of my wedding photos. I was all into scrapbooking back then. My husband was downstairs playing SOCOM. He would occasionally come upstairs to check on me. He was really impressed with how the scrapbook was coming along. At the time we both seemed happy and content. We talked about getting a real Christmas tree like we used to back when the kids were toddlers. He made his way back down to his game and I began packing up my scrapbook stuff because I was getting tired.

I remember laying on the bed. I was staring at the beach painting hanging by my side of the bed. My husband had bought the painting for me a few years back because I mentioned it reminded me of the Jersey Shore at sunset. That is when it happened. A single thought popped in my head out of nowhere. "My marriage is going to end and I do not know how to be alone." I started sobbing as the thought kept rolling through my head like a marquee. I was staring at my painting, quietly crying so as to not wake the kids or alarm my husband. And, just as soon as it happened, it was gone. I was calm again. However, I never forgot that moment. How could I? Let's just say I was a little freaked when it actually happened five months later. It came out of nowhere just like the thought I had five months earlier.

As I sat there on Martha's Vineyard waiting for the ferry, I realized I was going to be just fine. I do know how to be alone. The next few months after my trip were still rocky. There was still a lot of confusion on both our parts. But in the end, everything was exactly as it should be. We weren't meant to grow old together. We were so young when we first started. I was barely 18 and he was 19. We did not realize just how much more growing we had to do as individuals. And, the growing came whether we wanted it to or not over the next fifteen years. Sure, we grew together in many ways, we have two children together but... we also grew apart in bigger ways.

We were different people than when we first started fifteen years prior. Those differences were creating a negative home environment for our children. We just didn't notice it right away because it wasn't an obvious, loud, shouting, aggressive negativity. It was an undercurrent. We felt it but believed it would pass. It didn't. I always say, he made the hard decision that I just couldn't bring myself to do. And for that, I will always be grateful to him even though he went about it terribly. I will always genuinely wish him well.

Oak Bluffs
The calm washes over me. 

I look to my left, there is a single line of wooden dock pillars. The dock and the second set of pillars have long since washed away with time and tide. All that remained now was this single row of pillars. It survived the test of time. I realize my troubles will wash away with time and tide as well. They will drift into their respective places in my past. I will survive this. I am a strong woman. I don't want to live a lie. I don't want to live that kind of life. To me, that isn't really living. I just want to be me. I'm not competing against anyone. I'm done trying to impress people; convince people. I don't need to. You are either with me or you aren't. Life is too short. I'm not wasting any more time. Eventually there will be a new row of pillars next to mine. Eventually I will build a new dock upon my strong, weathered pillars. I look forward to that day.

It would seem funny that this entire trip came down to a single row of pillars jutting out from a jetty but in my world, it doesn't surprise me at all.



Part I of my Cape Cod Trilogy

Part III of my Cape Cod Trilogy

Links to Places I Visited and Other Good Stuff on MV,_Jr._plane_crash

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