Funny Duchess

Blog of artist and poet, Michelle Seaman

November 25, 2016

Encore and Other Restaurants from Our Travels

New towns mean tasting new food.

Whenever Benjamin and I stay somewhere for more than a day or two, we usually find a favorite restaurant and eat there for frequent meals.

On our latest trip to Cape Cod, we found Encore in the little village of Dennis. This lovely restaurant was tucked near Dennis’s theater and art museum. Elizabeth, the nice woman who worked at our B&B, warned us it might be a little tricky to find, but she said it was totally worth it. We liked the idea of eating somewhere off the beaten path, so we ventured out. Encore was so good that we ate there for three lunches and our anniversary dinner. With each visit, we tried different delights. Here are our top five:

1. Lobster and Mango Tower…with avocado and a lemongrass vinaigrette..Yes, Ma’am!
2. Clam Chowder… little neck clams with Yukon gold potatoes…Yes, please!
3. Baked Cod with sweet corn puree, pan burst tomatoes, and herbed rice … as our lovely waitress Hannah said, “Oh my cod!”
4. Butter Baked Scallops with sautéed mushrooms, roasted cauliflower, grilled corn, rice, in a pomegranate glaze…so delicious we cried.
5. Bread Pudding with a Rum Glaze…sweet Hannah made this extra special by writing “Happy 14th” in chocolate on our plate.

Delicious!

Writing all of this made me hungry and nostalgic for some other favorite restaurants we visited on different trips.

In Prague, we went to breakfast every morning at Cukrkavalimonada. Here is a link to my original post on our experience there: http://funnyduchess.com/page/9/
And here is their website: http://cukrkavalimonada.com

In Lewes, Delaware, we fell in love with Striper Bites for seafood lunches and Half Full for pizza and wine dinners.
http://www.striperbites.com
http://www.halffulllewes.com

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a local beachcomber recommended a roadside fish shack called Petey’s where we ate possibly one of the best fried fish sandwiches ever!
http://www.peteys.com/index.html

And I would be remiss not to mention another favorite place for fish, beer, and live music…Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida. I started going to Skippie’s in college for Wednesday night reggae and Red Stripes. I won a limbo contest there one New Year’s Eve, and throughout the years, I’ve seen some of the best shows—Jess Klein and Voices on the Verge, The Be Good Tanyas, and Nervous Turkey to name just a few. Skipper’s is also off the path, but it’s home in many ways to me. Check it out here: http://skipperssmokehouse.com/menu/

Here’s to good food and good times with friends and family in this holiday season. Salute! Prost! Cheers!

November 19, 2016

Walking Wing’s Island

I like to wander.

My love for walking without a destination began when I was little. We lived on an acre of land, surrounded by hundreds of acres of our neighbors’ woods and farmland that my brothers and I were free to roam. As long as we had our dog with us, we could go as far as we wanted, and we did. It seems strange to think about this now. I’m not sure how many parents would have the same level of trust. I do have nieces and a nephew in Colorado, and I believe they know this meandering freedom. They are hikers. They go with their parents to climb mountains at amazing heights. I like to imagine that the kids take off on their own too. I’m not sure. I’ve never really asked them, but I hope this “tradition” of mine is a part of their lives.

To be willing to wander is to be open to new experiences. It instills a sense of self-confidence.

When I left my country home and started living in cities, I had to learn to walk in a different environment. At first, it was scary. Humans are not as shy as other species. We can be mean, rude, dismissive, exclusive, and all kinds of other scary things, but we can also be friendly and compassionate. I experienced mostly kindness on my city walks, and I fell in love with my new setting. I fell in love with architecture, store fronts, cafes, bars, and food markets. Most of all, I loved hearing a collection of languages around me and seeing people who looked different from me.

I was brought up to think that difference was beautiful, and I am still fascinated by variety.

As I struggle now with arthritis in my hip, I can not walk as far as I’d like. I have to take a lot of breaks, and I have to be alert. There is a lovely spaciness to able-bodied ambling. You rarely think about your body. You just go. I never used to worry about tripping or falling. Now I have to be aware of every sidewalk crack or patch of ice. I have to look at my feet all the time, so I miss things.

However, I am not writing this for pity. Being forced to slow down has had its advantages. While I may miss the bigger picture in front of me, I take notice of other details. A lot of insects have been spared my heels, and I’ve learned to identify trees by their bark. John Stilgoe, author of Outside Lies Magic, would be proud of me. The basic thesis of his book is that you should see your town fully, by bicycle or walking. Here’s the first paragraph of his awesome book:

“Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow, look around. Do not jog. Do not run. Forget about blood pressure and arthritis, cardiovascular rejuvenation and weight reduction. Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike, and coast along a lot. Explore.”

While we were on vacation, we took a trail from behind the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History out to Cape Cod Bay. The trail was called Wing’s Island, after a man named John Wing, but I like to think of it as named after birds or insects or creatures like sting rays that seem to fly underwater.

The enthusiastic staff at the museum explained a little about Wing’s trail. They said that we timed it right, because it was low tide. At high tide, the island floods and strolling is impossible. So we set out, and not six hundred feet onto the trail, we encountered the foot bridge. Now, when I write the words ‘foot bridge,’ you’re probably thinking of a structure over water. This was not ‘over’ as much as ‘through’ the water. Basically, we stepped onto two boards that sunk and squished into the marsh. It was fantastic! I really felt like a kid again getting my shoes all muddy.

We continued to hike through the high salt marsh and onto the island where we found ourselves under eastern red cedars, pitch pines, and oak trees. Everything about this place smelled so good—wet earth, trees, and salt air. I took a lot of deep breaths. In the upland forest, we found a mermaid’s purse (evidence of baby sting rays), and we saw fox prints. We made our way over the dunes to see sand pipers and plovers, and then to the mud flats, home to crabs, herring, and other microscopic creatures. Of course, the big reward was reaching the Bay to once again gaze with love at a big ol’ blue horizon. Ahh…

My parents had an expression for how they raised us. This idiom was most likely the reason they let us roam the woods without adult supervision. They would say something like, “We’ve given you roots and wings. You have a home, and you can take off from it too.”

I take my roots with me wherever I go, happy to be part of my family. And whenever I have the strength to wander, I feel grateful.

November 14, 2016

First Encounters

The first time you see a species in the wild that you’ve never seen before, your heart races.

Years ago, I was hiking in northern Minnesota with a photographer friend of mine. We heard a noise like sticks crunching, and she readied her camera, thinking it was a deer. It was not. We saw our first black bear, and we froze. Lizzie wanted a photo badly, but I had food and a bottle of wine in my backpack, so I remember slowly touching her sleeve and saying, “I think we need to back away.” The moment felt like a scene in a fairy tale or a painting. Through all the autumn reds and yellows, her fur was ink black and gorgeous. She looked at us, must have determined we were not a threat, and finally turned and galloped away. Lizzie and I exhaled. Later, we drank that bottle and toasted our bear.

On this trip to Cape Cod, Benjamin and I had some really cool first encounters.

We were sitting on the beach just before sunset when a small herd of harbor seals surfaced to swim along the wave line. They were so cute! They’d swim forward, and then stop to look at the shore for a second, then continue swimming, and looking, over and over again. Later, on an informative beach kiosk, we read that this ‘swim, stop, and look’ was a habit of theirs. The sign also said that they resembled puppies, cocker spaniels to be specific. Yup. So cute!

Our second sighting was another gift…whales! Not just one…a pod of them, maybe 25 total! First, we saw their spouts, then they raised their heads and bodies out of the water, completely majestic, until finally their tails, those beautiful, curved V’s like wings splashed the waves! All the humans on the shore were mesmerized. Most likely, we were watching humpbacks migrating toward the warmer waters of the Caribbean. These are common whales for the Cape, but nothing felt ordinary about this experience for us.

Of course, at the risk of anthropomorphizing our sightings, I had to look up the symbolism of these first encounters of ours. To see a seal means to pay attention to your creativity and imagination and to follow through with your dreams. Nice! And no problem. Whales teach us to listen to our inner voices, understand the impact of our emotions on our daily lives, and follow our own truths. Again, nice! And absolutely. I know it’s maybe a bit New Age-y to do this, but when I’m feeling like I need a cosmic boost, I do look to nature, and she always calms me.

Benjamin and I had planned on going to the beach for lovely sunsets. To get to see the colors, along with seals and whales, was an extra shot of beauty, an extra reason to consider the Cape in October for many vacations to come.

November 14, 2016

Nauset Trail to Coast Guard Beach

After our first 10 mile ride along the Cape Cod Rail to Trail, Benjamin and I were still feeling pretty good, so we decided to check out another trail called the Nauset.

This 2 mile beauty was part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. It followed the sand dunes from the Salt Pond Visitor Center, out to a gorgeous salt marsh, and finally to the Atlantic at Coast Guard Beach.

The trial was paved, thankfully, because even though my trusty bike is a mountain bike, capable of some serious off roading, riding in sugar sand is out of the question for my hip. It was challenging enough to push my body on those rolling hills, but I did it! And the rewards were spectacular!

We reached the boardwalk that extended at least 50 yards over the marsh, and parked our bikes to gaze. When the air smells like salt and wet grass, I feel like I can breathe. I feel like I am in this landscape that combines the fresh water marshes of my childhood in Wisconsin, and the salt beaches of my young adulthood in Florida. Perfect. The extra bonus was riding right out to Coast Guard Beach. Wow! I am going to include a post that more specifically describes all that we saw at this beach, but for now, let me just say waves, waves, waves, open sky and blue. Ah…

I was exhausted after 12 miles in one day, but we still had to get back to the car. Benjamin offered to bike back alone and let me sit on the beach until he came to pick me up. My hip was humming, but I really wanted to go back through those dunes again. I wanted to try. Then, I saw a snake, just as we were about to get on the trail, and of course, I took it as a sign. I would need to gather all the strength of the muscles in my legs to go, but I’d shed my skin, and I’d make it back. I did 14 miles that day. Take that arthritis!

November 14, 2016

Cape Cod Rail to Trail

I love my bike.

And I love how it feels to ride on a long, flat trail through the woods or swampland, next to a river, or along the ocean. This is why I am grateful for the all the Rails to Trails throughout the United States.

Benjamin and I have planned most of our vacations and much of our free time around biking. We’ve pedaled on trails in: Door County Wisconsin, on the border between Illinois and Kentucky, in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, DC, Potsdam (Germany), New York, and now on the Cape Cod Rail to Trail (CCRT) in Massachusetts.

Wow! What a beautiful trail!

We began in the little village of Brewster, jumping on from Nickerson State Park. There were chipmunks, squirrels, blue jays, cardinals, mockingbirds, and bees! There was a frog on the trail trying to get the most of the autumn sun and a skunk letting us know he was there in his signature way before scurrying into the bushes. The maples were turning yellow, the sumac bursted with red, scrub oaks were tinted orange, and the pine trees smelled refreshing. I love the soft crunch of tires over pine needles, how the fall light flickers through the trees, how our jackets end up smelling like wind, and how it is quiet, quiet, quiet in the woods.

Each trail has its own highlights, and for the CCRT, it was the cranberry bogs and the breathtaking salt marshes.

I wasn’t exactly sure how cranberries were harvested, other than being scooped up out of water by hand. Apparently, there are a couple of different methods of getting these berries to table. There’s the wet method, where the fields are flooded the night before the harvest, then churned with a water reel, to loosen the berries from the vines, before finally being scooped up by hand. Also, there’s the dry method, where harvesters use what’s called a ‘walk-behind machine’ to shake them off the vines, and then they use a burlap bag to collect the fruit.

Years ago, when I first visited the Cape, my friend and I actually scooped some berries up from a wet bog, and we asked the B&B owner to put them in our muffins for breakfast. She did, and they were delicious! Technically, we were stealing, so I extend an apology to the farmer. I am truly sorry. This time, I rode my bike past the bogs and admired them from afar.

cranberry-bog

While the cranberry bogs were unique to view, it was the salt marshes on this trail that resonated with both of us. Before this trip, I was again complaining to Benjamin about how much I needed more horizon. In Wisconsin, I had open fields of wildflowers and fresh water marshes where red wing black birds had my heart beating evenly. In Florida, there were sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico that calmed me with flocks of pelicans zooming over the wave line. A long, flat, colorful horizon is a part of who I am. The Hudson River Valley is pretty, and I love being nestled here in the trees, but it is a valley, surrounded by the Palisades, near a big, congested city, and it’s left me feeling a bit boxed in. The loud people constantly talking and interrupting each other here were also beginning to get under my skin.

So when we biked to our first marsh along the trail, I stopped and took a deep breath.

Tall grass…small rocks…water running over a creek leading out to Wellfleet Bay and the Atlantic…open space and sky…lovely, lovely, beautiful! The trees that bordered part of the marsh were off in the distance and turning for Fall. The green reeds contrasted vibrant with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the trees. In places with four seasons, I feel like autumn colors are a chorus, and they sing loudly, right before they exit. It is a little sad to know they are “leaving” (oh so punny), but they do it with style.

This ride encouraged me to learn more about cranberries, and it taught me more about the importance of the salt marshes.

Biking is moving that doesn’t hurt my hip. I can get somewhere on my own. This is a powerful, independent feeling. I am grateful that long, flat trails exist in this country. I love you CCRT, and I love you, my Fuji Addy bike!

October 21, 2016

Sazan with Miko and Yusuke

Benjamin and I are so lucky.

We have two dear friends, Miko and Yusuke, who inspire us, make us think, and make us laugh. Recently, we had a double dinner date with our good friends at a sushi restaurant in Ardsley called Sazan.

Wow! This was one of the best dining experiences we have had since our time in Europe!

Miko and Yusuke knew the chef at Sazan, Mr. Sato, and all three of them took care of everything. We were completely in their capable hands.

We sat at the sushi bar right up close to Mr. Sato as he treated us not only to excellent food, but also to the manner in which to eat each course. He served us one piece at a time, naming it, and letting us know when to use soy sauce and wasabi and when not to. Miko and Yusuke taught us how to use the pickled ginger like a paint brush and dab the soy sauce over the fish. The whole process was graceful, with a nice, even pace. We love eating this way, taking our time.

There’s no way I will be able to remember all of the deliciousness. Benjamin and I tried to count, and we think we had something like 12 courses! Doing my best, after a bit of time has passed, and taking into consideration that sake was part of this experience too, here’s what I recall:

We began with a pate of goose egg,

followed by an appetizer of octopus, squid, fatty tuna, and vegetables in a miso medley,

then red snapper,

fatty tuna rolls,

shrimp tails,

shrimp heads,

clam,

sea urchin,

mackerel,

salmon roe roll,

eel,

komochi combo which translates to ‘seaweed with a baby,’
(Chef Sato remembered that this was Yusuke’s favorite-so nice!)

and the meal concluded with a slightly sweet egg soufflé and some delicious, crunchy pickles!

Listening to Miko and Yusuke speak with Mr. Sato in Japanese was comforting for me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, whenever I am surrounded by a language I don’t understand, my whole body relaxes. Language is music, and Japanese sounds like brushes on cymbals, fluttering and fluid.

We thanked our chef by learning the expression: Gochisousama deshita, which means, “It was a feast!”

We had such a great time, we felt so thankful to our friends, and we can’t wait to visit Sazan again!

October 21, 2016

Sundays at the J

George Kraus is a new poet friend of mine.

Admittedly, when I learned that he was going to be sharing his work at the last Open Mic at Muddy Water Cafe, I chose to read a poem specifically with him in mind. I admire George, and I wanted to read a strong piece, so I chose a poem that made allusions to other forms of literature, science, and one of my favorite paintings, The Penitent Magdalen. I chose the right poem, because after the reading, George shared that whenever he visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he also spends time with The Penitent Magdalen. I was so happy! We had an instant connection.

George has a PhD in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literature and Languages. The man is brilliant. He’s warm and friendly, and there is a sophistication to his work that reflects not only how well-read he is but also how much passion he has for thoughtful, crafted poetry.

To demonstrate and share his passion, George hosts a monthly poetry series at the Jewish Community Center called Sundays at the J. Benjamin and I were fortunate to have performed there last March, and it was a lovely experience! What I like best about George’s format is how he always opens it up to a discussion afterwards. Audience members have an opportunity to comment and ask the readers questions, and a salon happens. A salon happens! I love this! I love attending readings where I am not only swept away, awash in words, but where I am also challenged to think.

I attended George’s September reading that featured poets, Alan Holder and Natalie Safir, and I felt exactly this—-swept up and encouraged to ponder.

Alan’s poems were funny, intelligent, accessible, filled with nature imagery, and allusions to literature and culture. He had us all laughing with a poem about observing bee sex, and his style was smooth and entertaining.

Natalie’s work was brilliantly composed, honest, inviting, also filled with nature imagery, and vulnerable. It takes courage for a poet to stand before an audience and struggle to get through a piece that is dedicated to a friend who has recently passed away. Natalie was brave to do this, and I commend her for it.

At the end of the reading, George said something beautiful. And I’ll bring this post to a close by trying to paraphrase…

He thanked the poets and the audience for taking the time on a gorgeous afternoon to come inside and listen to poetry. In doing so, he said we all chose to spend a moment looking for meaning, because poetry after all, seeks meaning.

Yes, it does, George. Yes, it does.

September 26, 2016

Open Mic

I recently attended a poetry reading and open mic at Muddy Water Cafe in Tarrytown.

It was hosted by my friend Loretta, and it began with two featured readers followed by the open mic. Rather then comment too much on the performers, I want to write about poets as a community, a weird and necessary community.

As I sat there listening to my colleagues, I thought about how my life has shifted. I thought about where I had come from in terms of my career…

I worked as an English teacher for twenty five years, gradually tapering off my hours from full-time to part-time, to finally bidding my lovely career adieu for life as a writer. It’s been about three years now in this very different, very quiet, not- making-money-but-hope-to-someday-soon kind of “job.”

When I was an English teacher, I liked and respected my colleagues. I have fond memories of happy hours together, lunches, and poker parties, but I socialized even more with my ESL colleagues. ESL teachers are a special type. Travel is central to their lives, and they also tend to have other creative or artistic outlets. They are well-rounded. Life experiences teach them, just as much as they teach a language inside of a classroom.

I write this out of love, like a good book I savor and keep in my collection. I loved being a teacher. I was damn proud of what I did and truly grateful to be among such generous, funny, smart people.

But there was always this thing inside of me that made me know I couldn’t stay a teacher. It was a wilder calling, a less social, more solitary thing.

So why do I need a poet’s community, and why do I go to poetry readings? Here are five reasons:

1. To be with other strange people
2. To share fears and ideas of how and when and with whom we should get our work out there
3. To be vulnerable, ridiculous, and inspired
4. To know that when I step up to the mic, someone might be listening
5. To be at a party where words are center stage

When I choose to attend a reading, I listen and attach to certain phrases. The teacher in me can find goodness in almost anyone’s work. If I am to be truly honest, however, this is the teacher, not the writer. Poetry is art, and we all have our preferences.

I like it when:

1. Poets create whole universes in their work, places where they go, and characters who appear and float within gorgeous imagery

2. Poets make it clear that they are in love with words…so clear they use vocabulary that challenges me

3. Poets are funny, playful, eloquent, haunting, honest, crass…basically the whole range of emotions

4. Poets try forms and do them well…I love sonnets, pantoums, villanelles, and “slam” style poems with surprising rhymes

5. Poets are audience-aware, polite, and respectful of one another, the host, the venue, and the people who came to listen…

Poetry is important. Or at least I like to think it is. It’s a way to communicate in a peaceful and intelligent manner. It’s a way to connect. Poetry makes us think. I could go on and on about it, but I’ll end here…grateful that poetry exists and that it continues to feed my brain.

September 26, 2016

Elegy for a Favorite Dress

My light blue gingham sundress with the peaches, butterflies, and grapes on it… My mom made this pretty thing for me. She was sewing clothes for me even as I stepped into my 30’s. I wore this dress to poetry performance rehearsals, to ride my bike through Lowry Park and Flatwoods, and simply to clean my house. I wore it with sandals, boots, and Chuck Taylor’s, depending on my mood. I wore my little dress barefoot.

It was sleeveless with a scoop neck, fitted in the bust with a tie around the back, and flared a bit at the hips. It hung just above my knees. I wore it showing off my tatoos. It was the perfect dress for hot, steamy Florida.

I packed it and took it to Chicago with me. I didn’t have many occasions to wear it there, in the near freaking Arctic, but on rare, hot-enough-for-me days, I did wear it. I danced around our apartment when Benjamin wasn’t there. I put on Cajun music and wore it while it was snowing. I imagined I was somewhere I could smell wet trees in summer every day.

I moved my little gingham back South when we headed for North Carolina. I could wear it again on my front porch with my petunias and my vodka lemonades. The fabric was starting to thin, but I didn’t care. My dress felt at home in Raleigh.

That dress traveled to DC, then across the big old pond to Germany. I wore it until it was almost falling off my body, until it had several tears in it. Now it’s finally given up its ghost. I’ve “buried” it as a dress, but I’ve kept it as fabric, fabric that I’ve already used to make collages for sweet friends.

Bon Voyage Little Gingham! You wore me well.

September 26, 2016

Lyndhurst Flower Show

My friend Miko invited me to attend a flower show at Lyndhurst. One of her lovely employers, Gerald, had some arrangements in the show, and I was excited both to visit the historic mansion and to see his creations. I’ve never known anyone so in love with flowers like Miko, and Gerald was Miko’s flower mentor, so I was curious to meet the man who had inspired her.

I got there just as the show was opening, and I didn’t see my friend right away, so I wandered into the library. Lyndhurst has a nice collection of antiquated books, and it was peaceful in that room. I savored the quiet for a moment, and then I walked upstairs to the art gallery. Among paintings and triptychs, I felt just fine. The mansion’s art collection was impressive, and I know in the future I’ll spend more time up there.

Miko texted me, so I met her back downstairs. Gerald’s arrangements were displayed in the gorgeous Blue Room. This was originally the parlor where the ladies gathered. The Blue Room had a spectacular view of the grounds and the river. I imagined the women in there, holding their salons, talking about art.

Gerald’s arrangement added grace and color to this already beautiful room. The oranges of the fragrant lilies and the gloriosas complimented the blues of the decor, and the purple-blue delphiniums highlighted the stained glass windows. There was a modern element to Gerald’s flowers too with his choice of Gomphocarpus fruticosus, more commonly known as the balloon plant. This member of the milkweed family is especially attractive to monarch butterflies, and it’s beautiful in its transparency and texture.

I shook hands with Gerald and complimented him on his work. He and I easily fell into a conversation, first about flowers and then somehow to our mutual love for David Sedaris. We laughed together about key passages in Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day and Holidays on Ice. He and I shared a perfect parlor moment, and it was so good to finally meet him.

Sipping Prosceco through a straw, viewing the flowers, taking in the lovely interior, and conversing with Miko’s friends and co-workers, I really had a good time at my very first flower show and my first trip to Lyndhurst!

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