In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): The Escape

IMG_3422It’s usually around this time of year that I begin to get that subtle yet persistent feeling of longing to get away. Walking the streets of home loses its former appeal. The blocks of town so neatly arranged, square, and familiar — familiar, perhaps, in a way that is more stale and tired than comforting. Walking along the lakeshore in our usual way (for fitness and to clear our minds), James and I sometimes go silent as we listen to the waves, straining to hear quiet above the din of a college town and all of the mundane busyness of everyday life.

Lately, in those quiet moments, I find myself staring off into the eastern horizon, imagining myself soaring above that massive blue expanse, crossing miles and miles of deep crystalline waters, and landing my feet on the quiet shores of Northwestern Michigan. There, I could take to the woods for solitude or amble down the boulevards of quiet harbor towns to take in the sights. If I could fly, my escape would be easy. Instead, we must plan our escape and — because we’re responsible adults — we must call it a vacation (but it’s really an escape).

We awoke early on a Wednesday morning, delighting in the schadenfreude that comes of knowing most of the world is waking up to just an ordinary day while you’re skipping town. We loaded up the car with maps, goodies, and music, then drove down the alley to pick up our faithful neighbor, friend, and companion, Nicole, who was coming along for another wild escape attempt. Then, with the sun fully illuminating that eastern horizon which had for so long been beckoning us, we sped away down Lakeshore Drive escaping, once again, to search for the Northern Summer.

Our first stop again, this year, was at our favorite, no-nonsense breakfast place (Bert’s Breakfast Korner) just inside of Michigan. Perhaps it was for good luck or perhaps because I’m a stickler for tradition, but I IMG_0840ordered the very same breakfast that I’ve always gotten: the McBert Sandwich (a sausage, cheese, and fried egg sandwich on an English muffin) and James and I split a stack of Banana-Walnut Buttermilk Pancakes.

I’ve never been sure whether it’s just that the wait staff at Bert’s is so friendly and accommodating or if they’ve actually started to recognize us since we typically make several stops there each year during the summer fruit-and-vacation season. Tucked within a small town in Southwestern Michigan, it might be that they’re not so used to folks from out of town stopping in. Whatever the case may be, we’ve always felt welcome there, and it’s a great way to begin any road trip. (I talk more about Bert’s in this post.)

Refreshed from our breakfast, we continued north on Michigan’s Blue Star Highway which snakes along the western coastline. To our west, Lake Michigan sometimes in view, other times hidden behind tall sand dunes covered with cottonwood trees. To our east, endless views of orchards and vineyards stretching so far that they disappeared over hills. And, of course, all of the charming little towns sprinkled in along the way provided conversation fodder as we remembered certain billboards or towns we’d explored in summers past.

We were on our way to, once again, celebrate Food for Thought’s Green Cuisine in Honor, MI. But, before making our way to the farm, James and I IMG_3861decided to show Nicole a magnificent scenic overlook we’d discovered just this past spring near the sleepy little hamlet of Arcadia, MI.

Upon arriving, James and I were excited to see that the repair work on the overlook staircase had been completed. We were eager to start the climb since we’d had a limited but still majestic view of the coastline, before. Somehow, I’d forgotten that Nicole is more than a little afraid of heights! She very carefully ascended the stairs which were of the see-through sort — a constant reminder of how far her feet were from terra firma.

As we made the climb, I had two, first-time bird sightings: a pair of Cedar Waxwings and a wee Black-and-White Warbler! They were all sitting in the dense branches of white poplar that lined the staircase. If I’d had my binoculars around my neck, I would’ve been able to enjoy a closer look at the waxwings, but I didn’t need them for the warbler. He seemed to be quite brave, coming closer to us rather than shying away.

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Once we arrived at the upper deck, the view was spectacular. Lake Michigan never looked so big and blue! With the summer sun shining down from straight above us, the waters looked nearly transparent and stretched far off into the west where they disappeared from view, taking with them the cares and troubles we’d been speeding away from.

The waves, driven by a westerly wind, caressed the shore and whispered a calming “hush” to our perch high above the water. Staring straight down where the waves met the sand, you realized that the green directly in front of you was the tops of very tall trees. Blessed with a view afforded only to birds, we paused to take it all in. This view was what I envisioned as I stared longingly at the eastern horizon back home. It felt good to fly.

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From atop the bluff, you could see far to the south the meandering coastline dotted here and there with cabins and evidence of Arcadia, but mostly beautiful white sand and trees in their summery, emerald shades. Just inside of the coastline, you could see Michigan’s famed scenic highway, M-22, as it ambles along through twists and turns of the coast while undulating with the rise and fall of the dunes like a roller coaster.

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Once we descended from the towering staircase, it was time to make our way to Green Cuisine. Food for Thought hosts this celebration of local food every summer and each year it is an inspiring example of the power of cooperation — both from the surrounding community and local food merchants. From all across the Northwestern Michigan area, farmers, wineries, bakeries, and restauranteurs bring samples of their finest products made from locally-sourced ingredients for hundreds of local enthusiasts to sample and discuss. Best of all, it’s a “zero waste” event — everything is either reusable, compostable, or recyclable!

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A few notable tastes worth mentioning:

    IMG_3868Cinnamon-Raisin Bread and Olive-Parmesan Bread from Pleasanton Bakery of Traverse City. Both of these breads were moist and flavorful. The Cinnamon-Raisin was not overly sweet, but full of that raisin taste that most store-bought raisin breads attempt to make up for with added sugar. Though I’m not a fan of olives, the Olive-Parmesan bread was delightfully salty and tangy and an excellent accompaniment to the hummus we sampled from the vendor next door.

    Cherry-Chipotle Hummus and Pesto Hummus from The Redheads of Traverse City. While the texture of their hummus is slightly thinner than the average hummus you can find at the grocery store, the taste is above and beyond anything you’d describe as “average”. More than just something to dip a chip into or spread on carrot sticks, this hummus is meant to be savored. Mine and James’ favorite was the cherry-chipotle which was only moderately spicy. IMG_3870Nicole’s favorite was the pesto variety — a curious thing, since she doesn’t adore pesto nearly as much as we do. Nicole actually bought a tub of this hummus from the local grocery co-op so we could enjoy it at the beach.

    Late Harvest Riesling from Chateau Chantal on the scenic Old Mission Peninsula. The fruitiness of this riesling is hard to describe. Within a single sip, you can taste the sweetness of ripe pears and the fragrance of honey. It went very nicely with the cheeses we were sampling from Land of Goshen.

    45 White wine from Forty-Five North Winery of Leelanau County. A deeper, darker tasting white wine, we thought this went well with the bruschetta offered by Trattoria Stella of Traverse City or the sausages James enjoyed from Honor Family Market.

    Hummingbird Nectar and Sunday Morning teas from Light of Day Organic Teas & Tisanes of Leelanau County. Both teas are created in small batches with most of the IMG_3872ingredients grown on the company’s farm right on M-72 in Leelanau County. The Hummingbird Nectar was a combination of several berries and fruits with just a hint of maple syrup — very refreshing and not overly sweet. Sunday Morning, favored by Nicole, was a smooth black tea blend containing chrysanthemum and vanilla. We did not get a chance to visit their farm and tea room while we were in town, but it’s at the top of our list, for next time, as you know I’m a big fan of herbs and tisanes.

Just before leaving the event, we were introduced to Paul Siers — a newbie farmer who’s growing and researching a “new fruit”. The concept was immediately exciting to me since you don’t often hear about “new” IMG_3874foods outside of the so-called “new” crud churned out by processed food manufacturers every year.

Paul told us about his work with Autumn Berries (formerly known as Autumn Olives) — which are smallish fruits from a previously uncultivated, wild shrub originally brought to the Midwest to prevent erosion. Though the non-native species was beginning to spread and thrive far more than originally intended, its fruit was recently discovered to be not only edible but highly nutritious. Maybe this was more than a rogue weed after all?

Food for Thought turns Paul’s “new” fruit into a zesty preserve — the taste of which is somewhere between plums and the sweetest of tomatoes you’ve ever tasted. Naturally, such a complex taste is equally at home in sweet or savory combinations. While laboratories are still exploring the health benefits of Autumn Berries, it is already known that they contain at least 17 times the lycopene found in tomatoes! What an exciting find! We can’t wait to try all sorts of new things with Autumn Berries.

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By and by, we sneaked away from the festivities and headed down the wildflower-lined country road to where we’d parked the car. It’d been a long day of driving and sight-seeing, so we were ready to retire in our home away from home where — as fate would have it — we had an unexpected reunion with a very old friend.

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~ by Jason on July 26, 2011.

6 Responses to “In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): The Escape”

  1. AWWWWW — wish I could have been there. It was beautiful and looked like a lot of fun. ALSO I remember when we went to Bert’s, that time, I loved it too. And the service there was like no other place I have ever been — and still can say the same thing as of today. Can I fill your cup? LOL 🙂
    Love and miss ya’ll
    MOM

  2. Makes me want to meet you all there, and enjoy everything, including your company. Have a great time! Hugs, and love,
    Sally

  3. Looks like it was a beautiful trip. I’m glad for you both. I miss the days of our trips, looks like you’re still at it though!!

    • I’m having trouble deciding what my favorite spring, summer, or winter break was back in college… might’ve been our trip to the Smokies. Or, that time we spent the better part of a week as pedestrians in St. Louis in the height of summer. Or, might’ve been the time we traveled to Washington DC for Thanksgiving Break and budgeted so carefully that I came home with $1 to my name! Ach! I don’t miss being a student, that’s for sure! 😀

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