At the Table: Warm showers and warm meals | Food |

2022-09-04 18:35:50 By : Mr. Michael Tian

Plentiful sunshine. High 71F. Winds NE at 10 to 15 mph..

A clear sky. Low 49F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.

I had some oyster mushrooms we found foraging earlier in the week.

Sauteed oyster mushrooms to join with some cultivated shiitake mushrooms to top the risotto.

Smushed Kale Salad — we worked together in the big bowl, “smushing” the kale with our fingers to tenderize the leaves drizzled in olive oil.

A good cookie any time of day, and nice for an after-school treat, too.

I had some oyster mushrooms we found foraging earlier in the week.

Sauteed oyster mushrooms to join with some cultivated shiitake mushrooms to top the risotto.

Smushed Kale Salad — we worked together in the big bowl, “smushing” the kale with our fingers to tenderize the leaves drizzled in olive oil.

A good cookie any time of day, and nice for an after-school treat, too.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, two cyclists wheeled up our driveway with a friendly hello. My husband greeted them, showed them where to stow their bikes in our garage, and asked how their ride was. I strode over to be introduced to Wendy and Michael, our Warm Showers guests for the night.

“Warm Showers” is a community of cyclists and hosts who support them by offering a space in their homes to those on tour. Loosely modeled on “couch surfing,” the online platform allows cyclists to find a bed for the night or a place to pitch their tent at no cost. My husband and I heard about the organization from friends in Traverse City who are hosts and thought it would be fun to list our home. That was 10 years ago.

As you can imagine, bike touring in Northern Michigan is very seasonal and we typically get requests from May through early October. The platform is only for those who are traveling by bike (i.e., you can’t drive to a host’s home and use it as a launch for day trips.) Hosts can list a bed or space in the yard for a tent. Access to a bathroom (hence the catchy name, “warm showers”) is expected. Offering meals, laundry, and other amenities are totally up to the host. These are listed on the site so that cyclists know what the options are. Cyclists contact a host ahead of time to see if the space is available.

Invariably, guests arrive in the late afternoon or early evening hours, in time for supper, and we usually invite them to share a meal with us. Since our profile allows for flexible notice, we sometimes get a request just a few hours ahead of their arrival time. This often means stretching a meal we had in the works for ourselves. But we are pretty good at that!

Temperatures were cool enough that Saturday to contemplate a warm meal, and I turned to risotto for this impromptu dinner. Risotto is an Italian dish, using a starchy short grain rice that is cooked by slowly adding a hot broth, stirring until the ladleful is absorbed before adding another. This technique produces a rice with a very creamy texture, rich in starch and whatever base you started with. I had some oyster mushrooms we found foraging earlier in the week and sauteed these with some cultivated shiitake mushrooms to top the risotto. Freshly grated parmesan, stirred into the risotto at the end with a little left to sprinkle on top, gilded the dish.

Wendy and Michael wanted to help with meal prep, so I sent them into the garden to find ingredients for a salad. They picked nasturtium blossoms, basil and parsley, kale, tomatoes and a cucumber. Wendy said she learned about massaging kale from another Warm Showers host, and we worked together in the big bowl, “smushing” the kale with our fingers to tenderize the leaves drizzled in olive oil. Gene Autry songs played on the speakers as Michael chopped the cucumber and tomatoes and added them to the bowl. A generous squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and the delicious salad was ready to eat.

At the table, they told us about their garden in northern California, and how they find garden “sitters” to take care of things while they are on the road. Conversation was lively, and as usual, I am often humbled by the distances our guest cyclists travel. They began their trip with a drive from California to Midland, then biking across to Lake Michigan and northward. The plan included traveling by bike across the Upper Peninsula, hoping to also see some Lake Superior shoreline before continuing into Wisconsin and down to Manitowoc for a ferry across the lake to Ludington. From there, they would ride bikes back to their start in Midland. Michael is in his seventies and Wendy in her sixties. When they don’t have a Warm Showers option, they pitch a tent at a campsite. Amazing and inspiring.

We have hosted a variety of people over the years, sharing an evening meal and stories. There was an 18-year-old British student traveling solo across the U.S. on his gap year. He showed us a list his mother gave him with the top ten things she was worried about on his journey. The list began with “being eaten by a bear in Yellowstone Park” and, in third place, “eating at too many fast-food restaurants.” She would be glad to know he ate a homecooked meal with us, but I wonder what she’d think of the s’mores he devoured as we sat around the fire. They were a novelty to him, both as a food and as a word he kept asking how to spell.

Other memorable guests included a young woman and her boyfriend who operate a bike repair shop in New Orleans in a poor section of the city, offering bicycles and lessons on repairs to the residents in the neighborhood. Not only are they getting more people on bikes, but they also started a city garden, giving people produce they grow and instructions on how to cook it. Emily was touring Michigan by bike that summer while her boyfriend was working on a tall ship in Grand Traverse Bay. After being with us, she found work and a place to stay at a cidery during the apple harvest until her boyfriend finished his stint on the boat.

A mother and son traveling from Montana graced our home late one evening and stayed an extra night as they repaired gear for the long journey back. The shy son was a cellist, and we played YoYo Ma while we sat in candlelight out on the patio. She shared their stories of sleeping in churchyards along the way when campsites were unable to accommodate them, and the kindness of strangers who helped them.

Another recent guest was a young woman who had been on remarkable long-distance tours, including a trip through South America. She chronicled their journey into lessons each day that were relayed to high schoolers in Chicago. It was an early online experience that served as a model for classes during the pandemic. Kristen also works as a courier who travels by plane to places all over the world, delivering packages for companies. More fodder for great stories! Kristen also helped with the meal, picking cucumbers from the garden and helping create a chopped salad for dinner.

Through Warm Showers, single riders, couples, parents with young adult children, and people from other countries have been at our table and in our home. We start the evening as strangers sharing a meal and have coffee together the next morning as friends. There is a powerful connection you make when you invite someone you don’t know into your home. It’s about trust, curiosity, and treating others as you hope you would be treated. While the time spent together is short, the memory of it stays with you for a long time. Like an unexpected hug, or a fresh warm cookie.

4 C. chicken or vegetable broth

½ C. chopped onion or shallot

1 ½ C. Arborio or Carnaroli rice

In a small pot, heat broth and keep warm at a low simmer. In a medium pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium low heat. Add onion or shallots; stir until softened. Add rice and stir (there will be a lot of stirring!) about 2 minutes. Add wine and stir until it is absorbed. Begin to ladle the broth into the rice, about ½ cup at a time, stirring until the broth is absorbed before adding the next ladle of broth. As you get closer to the end of the broth, taste the rice and continue to add liquid until the rice is tender and creamy, adding water if you run out of broth. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in a good handful of parmesan.

You can add any vegetable you’d like to the dish, either on top of the risotto or stirred in. Shrimp is a nice addition as well. Divide into bowls and pass around more parmesan.

We like to forage for mushrooms, morels in the spring; oyster, lion’s mane and if we are lucky, chanterelle mushrooms in the late summer. Oyster mushrooms are abundant enough that we dry the extras to use throughout the year.

enough for 4 servings of risotto

8 oz. mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn into smaller pieces

Heat oil and butter in a wide shallow pan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook to soften. Add mushrooms and sauté until golden. Sprinkle in thyme, salt and pepper to taste. If using sherry, add and cook over high heat, stirring until evaporated.

I liked that Wendy learned this as smushed kale, not the usual “massaged.” The amount of kale will reduce by half after smushing.

Kale leaves, center ribs removed, and leaves torn or shredded

Grated lemon zest and juice

Place kale leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and begin to work the leaves with your fingers until they turn dark. Taste for tenderness and keep working the leaves until it tastes soft. Salt and smush some more, then stir in some lemon zest and a little lemon juice. Taste again, adding more lemon if needed. Finish with pepper.

A good cookie any time of day, and nice for an after-school treat, too.

Makes 4 dozen cookies (recipe can be halved)

2 ½ C. old fashioned oatmeal (or “rolled oats”), coarsely ground in a food processor

4 oz. grated semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (use a food processor)

Cream butter and sugar together, beat until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, blend.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, oats, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir this into butter mixture, then stir in chocolate chips, grated chocolate and nuts.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into 2” balls and place 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 10 minutes, until slightly golden. Cool on wire rack.

Rose Hollander has been a caterer, Idyll Farms chef and cooking instructor who helped initiate the kitchen classroom at the Children’s House. She completed her chef certification at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland.

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