Vagabond Kitchen: Bliss Remix

Memoirs and recipes from the Vagabond Kitchen experience at Bliss Fest 2015

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Potato salad with nasturtium flowers out of the Bliss Fest garden cooked up in the Vagabond Kitchen by Rachel Mills. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

7-27-15
I sat outside the home-tent, sun slinking, still hot, behind untidy pines. Carp fed ten feet away in the shoreline’s shallow, reedy, lily-pad laced water. Their mouths made quick “Snap!” noises as they snatched bugs from the surface. Their spotted bodies seemed ancient and predatory, hovering just beneath the surface in big schools. A hawk screeched its way into the tree line, upsetting several blue jays that shrieked and chattered their displeasure.

Summer evening calm, soft garden-sprinkler water patter and gentle humidity lulled me into somnolence that gives way to anxiety as I checked the time on my phone, illuminating the date and how fast summer’s slipping by.
Three months of warm days out of school seemed a veritable eternity of bliss when I was a child, but now the landmarks: July 4th, Blissfest, my birthday, slip by, oiled perhaps by an awareness of mortality absent in my child self.

I love living in our lake-side tent. When we made our decision it was patterned in adversity, but the reality has been the best summer of my life. Many moments have been challenging—some to an extreme—but with my partner I’ve had adventures, late night laughter, and enough magical moments to fill hundreds of photo books. We’ve cooked foods in our home-tent, my parent’s kitchen, Orson’s dad’s kitchen, the Yellowdog River Camp, the Blissfest farmhouse, and countless pull-over picnics.

Our generous friend Ashley won two nights at the Blissfest farmhouse in a silent auction and generously shared her time with Orson and me for a birthday celebration. Blissfest—a thirty-five year old music festival held the second weekend in July—is one of my favorite things about summer. I’ve been going since I was thirteen and Orson most of his whole life. Two years ago, Orson and I met at Blissfest—a meeting that seemed destined as he passed my car in line, saw me from afar and, pointing to me said to his friends, “I’m coming back for her. She’s the one.” I wandered into Orson’s camp a few hours later, was introduced by my sister, and we’ve been together ever since. Blissfest and its grounds are charmed for us.

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Rachel Mills and her partner Orson met at Bliss Fest and have been together ever since. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

Friends joined Ashley, Orson, and I in our celebration. They brought food to share and I cooked and cooked, laughing, feeding my friends, watching the sunset across empty Blissfest grounds and then watching the sun rise, joy settling over me, sinking into my skin—joy to last the whole winter long.

Blissfest Farmhouse Meals

Fried Rice with Organic Eggs, Local Snap Peas, Arugula, Brown Rice, Local Pork Sausage and Peanut Sauce:

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Fried rice cooked up in the Vagabond Kitchen at Bliss Fest by Rachel Mills. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

Fried Rice is one of my favorite easy week-night meals. It’s a great way to use up leftover rice, too many eggs, and/or lots of vegetables. This can be a one-pot meal, but I like to cook the vegetables, rice, and eggs separately. As the veggies stir-fry sprinkle in dashes of hot sauce, soy sauce, and Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste.

Sautee the vegetables, then add the rice, drizzling in sesame seed oil. Scramble the eggs, making sure to mix in plenty of pepper and butter, but not too much salt, as the soy sauce makes the dish salty already. Cook the sausage then mix together vegetables, rice, eggs, and sausage, reserving a bit of chopped arugula and spring onions to sprinkle on top.

Peanut Sauce:

This is a wonderful way to use up odds and ends left in peanut butter jars. I had a bit leftover from the July 4th camping trip and a dab left from a container my mother gave us, because she buys organic chunky peanut butter in bulk from her local food co-op—tastes of my childhood.
Add soy sauce, apple cider vinegar (most other vinegars work as well) garlic, pepper, red pepper flakes or other hot spice, and slowly drizzle in water, whisking. Add enough liquid, testing as you go to achieve your desired flavor and consistency. It’s also a great dipping sauce for spring rolls, egg rolls, tempura, etc.
You can also add a can of coconut milk for a delicious, creamy peanut sauce that’s great as a topping for stir fries, noodles, and as a dipping sauce.

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Farmhouse flowers make a beautiful addition to any meal. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

Blissfest Reverie:

Impromptu Picnic with Mark and Caroline Behind the Blissfest Stage Chickpea Salad with Boiled Chickpeas, Olive Oil, Crumbled Feta, Minced Garlic, Basil, Arugula, Sorrel.
I approached the garden terrace behind the Bliss stage, walking onto a scene I’ll hold in my memory forever.

“This is Mark,” Orson said as I reached to shake the callused, long fingered hand proffered by the man braiding garlic into long, elegant bundles.
“Nice to meet you,” Mark said, a wide smile breaking his weathered face into tanned lines. His gray hair was tucked beneath a baseball cap and he wore jean overalls cut off just above the knee.

“And this is Caroline,” Orson said as a smiling woman in a flower-print dress, long gray hair twisted into a bun approached from a house door beneath the stage. Caroline carried a glass bowl glistening with ripe red cherries, which she positioned in the center of a glass-topped table.

“Welcome,” she exclaimed. Warmth, tangible as sunshine radiated from her being.
Mark and Caroline care-take for Blissfest, a job they’ve enjoyed for the past fifteen plus years. They live in the house below/behind the stage.
We gushed over their living situation, fantasizing about what it must be like to live in such a vibrant, thrilling environment.

“Well,” Mark said slowly. “It gets real interesting around here about one weekend a year. Come January/February it’s more like The Shining,” he finished with a dry chuckle.
Their garden was a tangled, fruiting jungle next to the bricked veranda where we sat. Sinking sunlight turned the world golden as a few good friends gathered around Mark and Caroline. We each brought a little of what we had: cherries, chips and fresh salsa, gin drinks with fresh-squeezed juice (Caroline’s special recipe), and chickpea salad.
I’d cooked the chickpeas the night before, knowing they would come in handy during our Blissfest weekend. Having cooked chickpeas in the fridge or freezer allows for easy, healthy impromptu snacks and meals.

• Soak chickpeas overnight, rinse, then boil until they’re done, testing as you go. Add salt within the last ten-fifteen minutes of cooking. Reserve the cooking liquid, as it contains many valuable nutrients and lots of starchy flavor. Use when making homemade hummus or in soups).

I mixed the cooked chickpeas with olive oil, chopped tomato, crumbled feta, minced garlic, basil and arugula from our tent-home garden, and sorrel from Ashley’s Bluestem Farms Farm Share. Sorrel is very tart and lemony, so I chopped it into fine green ribbons.
The salad came together in just a few minutes, and I carried it out to the table where our impromptu meal had assembled. The wind was warm and spirits of festival exaltation shimmered amongst lacy-leafed locusts. We spoke of food, music, and ourselves, urging Caroline to tell tales of her days touring with the Grateful Dead.
Remember this, I admonished myself. Orson took my hand, then fed me a cherry with juice reddened fingertips. Caroline laughed. Gold finches twittered glee.

Stayed Up All Night, Put it in the Pot Eggs:

Sometimes, a Time’s too Good, to go to Bed. Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Chopped Tomato, Arugula, Diced Brie, 2 Sautéed Onions, Minced Garlic, and Diced Avocado
Sunday morning we had a hungry crew to feed. I looked into the refrigerator, looked at the living room full of drooping, sleepy-eyed crew, and decided breakfast had to come soon.
It was all going into the pan.

I cooked the bacon, set it in the oven to keep warm, dumped out most of the bacon grease, but reserved enough to sauté two onions, then stirred in enough eggs for ten people when the onions were caramelized. When the eggs began to harden, I added diced tomato, chopped bacon, and minced garlic. When the eggs were cooked I topped them with diced brie, avocado chunks, and a bit more diced arugula.
We ate at the picnic table outside the farmhouse’s back door, grass tickling our legs.
We fed a sleepless night buttery brie, silky eggs, and salty bacon. Happy sighs floated upward to where finches flitted, chirruping amongst apple and pear trees heavy with ripening fruit.

Sunday Dinner:

Make Each Moment Last Because it goes too Fast Baked Lemon, Onion, Garlic Chicken with Mish-Mash Potato Salad and Sautéed Zucchini

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Baked chicken cooked up in the Vagabond Kitchen at Bliss Fest by Rachel Mills. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

There were only four of us left after our magical weekend eating, dancing, and merry making. We lingered over dinner preparation, savoring each moment, wanting to carry away with us all we’d tasted, felt, and experienced. The chicken I roasted in the Blissfest Farmhouse kitchen was from Bluestem Farms—a beautiful local bird.

Rub the chicken liberally with a mixture of olive oil, butter, salt and pepper—make sure the pan is coated in butter/oil too.

Stuff the chicken with thick slices of garlic, onion wedges, fresh thyme (any fresh herbs are delicious) and lemon wedges. Make sure the pan is small enough so that the juices collect around the chicken, rather than flowing out into the pan and burning.

Roast in a 350 degree oven (I often up the temp. to 375 the last half hour for crisper skin. If the skin is getting too crispy, toss a length of tinfoil over the bird) until skin is crispy and juices run clear. The timing varies by poundage, but it usually takes about an hour and a half.

Cooking times can vary—make sure you leave yourself extra time in case the bird takes a bit longer. Chicken’s cooking temperature should be at least 165 degrees for safe eating.
Let it rest for at least ten minutes before cutting and serving.

For the potato salad, I used odds and ends I had on hand from our garden and Ashley’s farm share, mixing together boiled potatoes, five hard boiled eggs, slices of multi-colored radish, minced garlic, spicy mustard, one diced tomato, and chopped fresh dill and sorrel from the Bliss garden. I reserved the hard-boiled egg yolks and mixed them with olive oil, making a nice dressing with my limited resources.

Sautéed zucchini is a delicious and easy side dish—it uses up a good deal of zucchini, which wasn’t a problem in early July, but becomes one toward mid-August.

Slice zucchini and sauté with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic (don’t add until the end so it doesn’t burn) and a dash of Sriracha.

Friends Ashley, Chris, Orson and I ate at the picnic table, moaning and sighing happily with each bite. Behind us the main stage’s roof glowed in the setting sun. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Only two weeks ago these grounds reverberated with the presence of 6000 humans, being. The ghost of festival lingered behind my eyelids, and fiddle music played, just beyond the tree line.

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About Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills Rachel Mills is a professor of English at Northern Michigan University where she received her BS in English, MA in Creative Writing, and MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her current writing focus revolves around looking at food from a universal perspective-- the history, culture, and traditions surrounding both her family's food traditions, and those of other cultures.

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