Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I left Oberlin at 3:45 pm Sunday and arrived in northern Minnesota at 5:15 pm Monday. Turbo trip! My speedometer works approximately twice a month, and on neither day of this drive. The needle just hangs out at 20mph, going or stopping. So I had no idea how fast I was going, I would get myself into a comfortable car sandwich and go with the flow, figuring that if we were speeding outrageously the highway patrol would target the leader or the end of the line. Worked!

Emmett was an agreeable companion but no help driving.

On day one I blazed through Indiana and Illinois without pause. On day two I did the final 400 miles in a single shot, not even stopping for gas or restroom or Twizzlers. I just wanted it to be over. The right side of my body was numb by the time I arrived. Fortunately my dear and loquacious friend Melissa called around the time I was passing through Staples and we talked through the last hour-plus, 'til the phone grew hot and I had switched arms several times. This, I fear, is the point at which one's brain is being microwaved, but it made the time fly by.

Things I saw and heard on my drive, in order of appearance:
• a trio of glossy chocolate-colored mules, grazing
• a sign for FANGBONER ROAD
• an abandoned farmhouse collapsing backwards, overgrown with ivy
• speed metal on the radio while driving through rural Wisconsin at night, including a song called "Corey Feldman Holocaust"
• heat lightning over the field in Madison where my friends and I were running around with Emmett at midnight
• at least a dozen dead deer (which bear a disturbing coloring resemblance to Emmett), one of which had a neon-orange X spraypainted across its bloated and stiff torso in the dark
• two small crosses perched on a hillside next to 94, each decked with flower garlands and topped with a blaze-orange hunting cap
• a billboard for a place called Crystal Cave whose website is acoolcave.com
• an Adopt-A-Highway section sponsored by Minnesota Atheists
• girls walking through Menahga in shorts and flip-flops, it felt like true summer

Home at last, I went to Amy and Aaron's for dinner out in the woods. Amy had made homemade butter with local cream, which she sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt. Delicious!

The leftover buttermilk she turned into a delicious cool cucumber gazpacho, which also featured pureed almonds and some kind of oil (walnut? olive?) and, best of all, juicy halved green grapes swimming near the bottom like little sweet treasures. This, along with tender mellow radishes from the garden and ciabatta and cheese and wine, is just the pre-dinner snack. Then we had a Spanish vegetarian feast, replete with shitaake mushrooms and sweet scallions grilled over the fire and homemade mayo and garden greens and chickpea stew and things whose names I cannot remember! And ice cream with cloudberries for dessert.

Then after dinner Amy pulled out the birch water. When the sap was running in May, she and Aaron tapped some birch trees and collected gallons of the gushing water. They boiled down some of it to make birch syrup (it takes 70 gallons of birch water to make a gallon of syrup, compared with 40 of maple), but they kept a lot of the birch water just to drink .

The taste is so delicate and subtle I can hardly even describe it; all I can say is that birch water is the purest, cleanest, most delicious water I have ever drunk in my life. It tastes clear and alive. Amy declared that she wanted to drink it until she replaced every ounce of water in her body with it. Sign me up!

P.S. You should see the crazy car cake she and Aaron made for their son's second birthday. And also, the cooking classes she is going to offer out in their deep-woods paradise.


Carl said...

I googled the key words ( Birch Water )and found your blog :)
I am trying to replicate a recipe from 1717 using Birch water as the base ingredient! Wondering if you might help me source for this experiment? Thanks in advance for your time.

Kind Regards,


Anonymous said...

Hey Carl, not sure where in the world you are located but here in Atlanta there are a couple of very well stocked Farmer's Markets that carry imported birch water from Eastern Block/Russia. You might could check into markets that feature Russian products should you live nearby a large metro area.
Good luck,

Anonymous said...

i just tasted birch water this year! my father in law tapped some trees too! it is really refreshing!