I’ve been back a week today and still haven’t written about my trip to northern Michigan to help my sister and her husband with the chestnut harvest. I have a great excuse but cannot share the reason at this time. Stay tuned.
At O’Hare I ate at Frontera Tortas, Rick Bayless’ place. I never eat tortas in Tucson, but these are fabulous and I never miss a chance to have one of these.
I’d flown into Detroit and when I got off the plane my sister asked if I wanted to stop at Zingerman’s, a world-famous deli. Of course, I said yes! Especially since I was reading the book, The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti, which starts at Zingerman’s. A whole posting could be done on this place. These photos don’t do it justice.
My sister lives in East Lansing, but the property is in Lake Leelanau, not far from Traverse City. The view from the front porch is stunning. As a desert dweller, I forget how lush and green the Mid-West can be.
The first morning, after coffee, we headed out to the trees. Chestnut trees are beautiful. These are not American chestnut trees as they were pretty much wiped out by disease decades ago.
I knew I was in for hard work and chestnut picking is hard work; bending, stretching, reaching high and low. And then there are the prickers. Chestnuts encased by a protective shell that is all prickers that somehow find a way through the thick gloves you have to use.
Anyway, we worked every day that we were there (although I didn’t put in the time my sister did) and sadly the results weren’t as great as she had hoped. The summer had been hot and dry which didn’t help. The only comfort was that in talking with other chestnut people, especially the people at the University Co-op where they sell the nuts, everyone else seemed to be coming up short compared to last year.
The area in Michigan is home to many farms and vineyards. Cherries, apples, grapes and more grow in abundance. There was plenty of corn as well.
A strong farm to table sensibility can be found in all the little villages and towns where you can shop at craft shops filled with all sorts of beautiful items.
Cedar Sol Hydrofarm is a hydroponic farm and weirdly they sell tacos at their road stand. Good tacos, too.
Fishing is big here and at one place we even watched the salmon from Lake Michigan spawn – they weren’t very lucky though. We didn’t see one make it up the spillway.
The drink in the photo is called the Chubby Mary at The Cove in Leland and yes that is a smoked chub in the bloody Mary. It’s where we watched the spawning. We also noshed on peas and peanuts at a place called Bluebird also in Leland.
The other items on the plate were onion petals and clam strips.
We also stopped at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. Talk about all things cherry. The retail store has so many items they can’t be listed. I kept it simple and purchased cherry jam and dark chocolate cherry turtles. The company has sites all over Michigan but the one in Glen Arbor has, in addition to the store, a restaurant and a wine tasting room. Yes, they pour cherry wines and a cider (I think all the wineries make some sort of cider.) I can’t say I found these wines to be good wines, but if sweet wines are to your liking, check out Cherry Republic. Somehow, I didn’t get any pics.
Restaurants run the gamut from hip little spots serving tasty dishes created with local ingredients to taverns serving hardy plates of perch and smelt and fresh out of the surrounding lakes.
The best dish was the smelt that we ate at Dick’s Pour House, the quintessential up-north bar.
I love smelt but around these parts they are hard to come by and it’s been ages since I’ve had them. These were utterly fantastic, just as I remember; sizzling hot, perfectly crispy with the savory fish flavor. You eat them whole and they really don’t need any ketchup or tartar sauce.
We had a couple of decent pizzas there, too, so you can see the kind of place it was. By time we left, the place was packed with large groups, families and couples. It was so busy the owners were acting as runners and bussers. A good sign on all accounts.
I also had some fabulous lake perch at Big Cat Brewing, which is one of many breweries in the area.
The only meal that didn’t quite cut is was the baked mac’ at this little place called Fig’s. Everyone else’s meals were delish; mine just had too much mustard in the sauce.
There are also numerous wineries (we visited only two of the dozens on the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail) and cideries, which brew hard cider.
One we stopped at is called Tandem Ciders in Sutton Bay. We split a double flight, 12 altogether. They were interesting and something I’d like to get to know better. They were served with delicious pickled eggs, another fave that I haven’t had in decades.
On my final night we were back in East Lansing and my sister made her take on an old family favorite, shepard’s pie. She uses both sweet and regular potatoes and both lamb and beef.
All in all, I had a great time.
I ordered some wines from BluStone Vineyards. I brought home 4 pounds of chestnuts, which have to cure in the fridge for three weeks. I will add recipes I use in a future post.
I think I’ll go back next year for harvest.