Just for fun

St. Ignace — Land of Pasties and Smoked Fish

Posted on Updated on


Well, not really.  It’s actually the Magical Harbor!  But pasties and smoked fish are the two things that I need to buy when I am visiting, and it’s been some time since I’ve been up north.  It seems like those two things are everywhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) so sorting through all the different kinds can take some time.  Here’s where I can help!

Time for some coffee!

But first things first — a quick stop at Java Joe’s for some coffee.  This place is a fun little cafe that serves a nice selection of breakfast items.  Everything is good, but I’d have to single out the crepes as something to try.  They can be tricky to make yourself, and you just don’t find those in every restaurant.  Plus the decor is fun, especially the mural on the outside.  And the coffee is great as are the people who work there!

You gotta love a place that features a hopping winged unicorn carrying a steaming cup of smiling peace coffee on its back.

Now on to some pasties.  I think I may have talked a little bit about them in my post about the PastyFest 2011 in Calumet, MI.  Recipes can vary, but there are those who are adamant that the filling must include rutabagas and not potatoes.  In my opinion, it is the crust that makes everything shine.  And Bessie’s Homemade Pasties does it the best.  It’s a little bit further from the main strip downtown; just drive down the road, and up the hill until you see the giant sign.  Like a lot of restaurants in the Upper Peninsula (UP) the inside of the restaurant is simple and unassuming, with charming guestbooks that visitors can sign.  But in there, you will find some of the best pasties in the land.  These are my favorites by far — the filling is delicious (even if they don’t use rutabagas) and the crust is top-notch.  Plus, the pasties look happy to be there!  Luckily I planned ahead and brought a cooler so I could take some frozen pasties home.  Hopefully I can make them last for a while because I have no idea where to get pasties in SE Michigan.

Bessie's!
See? I told you they have some happy pasties here!
I cannot wait to dive right in!
One last step -- Gravy!!!

And finally a stop at Manley’s Smoked Fish.  You’ll pass it on the way to Java Joe’s and Bessie’s.  If you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, you will definitely see it.  You’ll probably notice it even if you’re not a fan of the Pack since the complex is painted in the team’s green and yellow colors.  But it’s not all for show — they have great quality smoked fish, homemade beef jerky, pasties, whitefish, lake trout, among other goodies.  We picked up a few smoked whitefish to bring home.  I don’t know exactly what they do in their smoke house, but they definitely know what they are doing.  There are lots of other purveyors of smoked fish in the northern reaches of the state, but this is worth a stop.  And the prices are extremely reasonable; respectable smoked whitefish down here can be around 5 times the price at $25 a pop.  I will be using these golden formerly swimming packets of goodness to a make smoked fish dip which I will be posting soon.

Gotta make a stop

Exploring Traverse City and the Great American Cherry Pie War

Posted on Updated on


Now I know I’ve been relatively quiet for the past few weeks.  But it’s the weird transition in the house between taking down Halloween decorations, leaving up Thanksgiving decorations,  and putting up Christmas decorations.  Plus I’m in vacation recovery mode (I went to the Traverse City [TC] area and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  I promise not to bore y’all with all my vacation escapades.  I will just share some of the food-related finds.

If you don’t know where Traverse City, MI is, I will show you on your handy Michigan map.  Just take your right hand and look at it palm-side-up; looks like the lower peninsula of Michigan, right?  Traverse City is just to the right of the tip of your pinky.  Don’t believe me, just check out this map.

Traverse City is actually a great foodie town.  Chef Mario Batali spends his summers just north of the city; Chef Jacques Torres opened up his first chocolate shop outside New York and Las Vegas in Traverse City (it has since closed); it is home to the National Cherry Festival; and prime Michigan wine country is just a stone’s throw away.

Speaking of cherries, have you heard of the Great American Cherry Pie War?  Well, I don’t know if it’s called that, but that’s the moniker I’m using.  TC and rival town just up the road Charlevoix, MI engaged in a heated battle vying for World’s Largest Cherry Pie.  Charlevoix fired the first volley by baking a pie that was over 14 feet across and 2 feet deep.  It weighed over 17,000 lbs and was baked in 1976 to help celebrate the US bicentennial.  It held the title until TC took the title away with a pie that was over 17 feet across and over 28,000 lbs.  Some town in Canada broke the record several years later, but you can visit the pie pans for the Michigan record breakers.

They make them big in Charlevoix, MI!
They make them even bigger in Traverse City!
TC's pie did not appear to be as manicured and celebrated as the one in Charlevoix, as evidenced by the disrepair.

I had actually come across this by accident when I noticed a giant pie pan on the side of the road while taking the scenic route up to St. Ignace, which is just over the Mackinaw Bridge in the Upper Peninsula.  That triggered a memory of the duel between the two rival towns that I had read on the Roadside America website.  You can read about quirky tourist attractions all over the country.  Just type in a city and find out what’s nearby.  This website also brought up another interesting TC landmark.

TC is home to a memorial to Colantha Walker, “The World Champion Cow of the Insane”.  She was born in April 1916 and was under the care of staff and patients of the Northern Michigan Asylum.  While living on the farm on the Asylum grounds, she produced 200,114.9 lbs. of milk and 7,525.8 lbs. of butterfat.  Now I have no clue as to how this compares to non-world champion cows, but it was sufficient enough for her to be immortalized with a rather sizeable granite tombstone after her death in January 1932.  But after doing a little research, her landmark year was 1926 when she produced almost 23,000 lbs. of milk, which earned her “World Champion” title.  According to census records, the Michigan average for dairy cows was just over 3,900 lbs. a year.

Exciting stuff!  Like I said, I promise to try not to tire you with yarns about my trip.  I’ll post on some great budget-friendly restaurants, a couple local breweries, a bake shoppe that makes the best pumpkin donuts that I’ve ever had, and throw in some smoked fish and pasties (the pastry, not the adornments worn to cover up your unmentionables).  I’ll even work in a recipe or two.  Stay tuned!

Versatile Blogger Award

Posted on Updated on


I admit that I had been putting off writing about this award for a couple of weeks, mainly because I was trying to figure out how to best fulfill the requirements of what this award entails.  Plus I really have not been feeling well, not that that’s a good excuse.  Now I’m not sure I can list “award-winning chef and author” on my resume, but anything helps in this current job market.  And I send a sincere thanks to Blue Jellybeans for passing the award on to me.

The rules of the award are as follows:  1)  list seven things about yourself; and 2)  pass the award on to 15 others.  So let’s begin.  Seven things about myself. . .

  1. I am a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  I’m sure that is difficult to see given all the weird vernacular and idioms that I use constantly, ya reckon?
  2. I am a firm believer in “retail therapy”.  Sometimes you really can buy yourself a little happy. . . sometimes
  3. Along those lines, I am a sucker for anything that is a “gift with purchase”.  You mean that all I have to do is spend $50 to get your $2 tote bag?  I am on it!
  4. I am willing to try anything once.  Except maybe seal eye balls and lutefisk (really?  fish soaked in poison?)
  5. When I am sick, one of the things I tend to do is clean.  Like a get-down-on-your-hands-and-knees-and-scrub-with-a-toothbrush kind of clean.  Of course, if I am too sick, I usually just lie down on various surfaces in the house and just moan.  Maybe that’s how I figure out what needs a good cleaning!
  6. I have a background in music.
  7. There are certain movies that I will watch without fail if I find that they are on TV.  These include:  Notting Hill, 50 First Dates, While You Were Sleeping, any of the “good” Star Treks, and any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
  8. I am a Gator, Seminole, and a Spartan (in that order, although I did go to Florida State first), and I’m begrudgingly considering becoming a Wolverine (ugh!).  But really, I love any obscure college team (Go Fighting Okra!)

I guess I did an extra one there.  Lo que sea.  And now to pass the award on!  These are some of the blogs that I read on a regular basis (and these are in alphabetical order), but I know of several that have been nominated already.  If I know that they’ve been nominated, I decided to try to pass this on to someone new.  Some of these folks I’ve been following for some time now.  Some I just started following, and then I realized, I read a lot of their stuff anyway, so why not subscribe?  Here are my 15+1 nominees:

  1. Aubergine & Butterbean
  2. Cakealogue
  3. Clever Muffin
  4. Cooking is Life!
  5. Frugal Feeding
  6. Passioneats
  7. Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide
  8. Savory Simple
  9. Sensible Lessons
  10. Simply Breakfast
  11. Syrup and Biscuits
  12. Tart to Heart
  13. The Answer is Always Pork
  14. The Hungry Artist
  15. The Little Loaf
  16. The Wholesome RD

Happy Blogging everyone!

I’m in shape. . . “round” is a shape, right?

Posted on Updated on


I think the "October" plate adds a nice touch of class.

I am sick.  And when I am sick, several things can happen.  These may include:  1)  my social filter switching to “off”; 2)  impulse control going out the window; and 3)  delirium.  So I’m thinking all three played some role in my thinking that posting this would be a good idea.

Anyhoo, I have found my new favorite recipe.  It’s so simple and easy to do.  Now I don’t recommend this for everyone, but if you’re feeling like I do right now, this might be just the thing for you.  Here’s what you need:

1.  Place handful of Cheez-its in mouth.

2.  Add rum.

3.  Enjoy!  Repeat as necessary.

Notes — This is just like that old staple of wine and cheese — except that there’s no wine and no cheese. . . I wouldn’t recommend a spiced rum for this.  I don’t think the flavor profiles would work well with the Cheez-its.  And it would be best if the rum had some age to it, but don’t go wasting some 30-year-old stuff on this recipe. . . Pretzels might work in a pinch, but I like the more diverse tastes you get from the Cheez-its

Happy Mustard Day!

Posted on Updated on


Just a quick post today about this great national holiday.  A couple of quick things to point out:  1) I don’t make my own mustard.  2) I don’t really have a recipe that uses mustard (although my dry rub recipe does have some dry mustard).  3) I love mustard, as you can tell from the mustards that I have in my refrigerator, not counting the Blue Cheese Mustard from Stonewall Kitchen that was just polished off the other day.  I totally recommend that mustard by the way.  But I digress. . . we all probably have some kind of mustard in our kitchen.  It’s a part of our everyday lives!!!. . . for the most part. . . maybe.

But back to the holiday. . . if you are somewhere near Madison, WI, you should pop on over to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton and celebrate at the festival.  Mustard from everywhere will be there — from Kaua’i, HI to Beaverton, OR to Clearwater, FL.  Unfortunately I can’t make it but I did have to order my very own 20th Annual National Mustard Day (NMD) T-shirt!  It sounds like a fun time and it looks to be a very well attended event.  So go celebrate everything mustard and eat a couple of free hotdogs.  Looks like they have some mustard custard to top everything off!

Does anyone have a recipe out there using mustard?

As a side note — today is also National Root Beer Float Day!  I am working on a cake to celebrate!

National Fried Chicken Day and My love of Chick-Fil-A

Posted on Updated on


I love Chick-Fil-A!  For those in the know, you understand the love.  What is extremely difficult for me is not having a Chick-Fil-A anywhere nearby!  It’s ridiculous actually.  How is it possible to not have one anywhere in this state?  I lived in Maine before here, and that state didn’t have one either.  I really need to rethink where I might live next:  requirement #1 — Chick-Fil-A; requirement #2 — ocean coastline.  It’s surprising that I’ve managed to survive all these years without it.  Every other state in the Big 10 has one, so why not here?.  Actually I lied; there is one in this state.  But it’s not a real one — it’s part of the cafeteria at Oakland University in Rochester, MI.  You can’t even order anything; you just grab what’s available and take your tray to the cashier.  It’s better than nothing though.

However, there is one in Toledo, OH.  But there is something about having to cross state lines to get some chicken that seems kinda wrong.  Like bad-addiction wrong.  It’s different if you’re going to Toledo for some other reason and you just decide to stop by Chick-Fil-A for a snack.  Totally legit!  But just for the food?  (Did I mention that there is also a Waffle House in Toledo?)  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t done it.  Sometimes, in a moment of weakness, you just fall off the wagon, drive to a totally different state, and order some sandwiches, fries, and a couple of 120-nugget platters.  It’s not like I ate those all by myself; there was a party involved (well, at least that’s the excuse that I use).  But after spending some years growing up in the south, that chicken is a staple of life.  To me, it’s like a part of home.  And what’s wrong with a little taste of home?

I do have tomorrow off, though.  Now, I’m not a Jedi, but I foresee a road trip in my near future.

Pastyfest 2011 and The Strawberry Festival

Posted on Updated on


I am a big fan of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The natural beauty of the place is remarkable.  And if there’s one place that I have a particular fondness in the U.P., it’s the Keweenaw Peninsula (well, there and the Soo Locks / Sault Ste. Marie).  The Keweenaw is the northernmost tip of the state (here’s a link to the Convention & Visitors Bureau).  It’s not the easiest place to get to, especially from the opposite corner of the state over here by Detroit.  I’d equate it to driving from Miami, FL all the way to Pensacola, FL.  It’s roughly the same distance, but to get to Copper Harbor (which at the very tip of the Keweenaw) you don’t have some nice fancy interstates to take you anywhere.  The closest thing would be US – 41.  Interestingly enough, US-41 ends / starts at Copper Harbor.  The other end?. . . it’s in Miami, FL.

But here are a couple of events happening in the next couple of weeks that would be fun to attend.  Coming up on July 1 – 2 in Calumet is PastyFest 2011 (I already ordered a t-shirt.  The mascot is awesome!).  What better way to celebrate Independence Day that with a Pasty Festival?  And the following weekend (July 8 – 9) is the Copper Country Strawberry Festival in Chassell.  As an aside, this area used to be copper mining country, hence the name and the pasties.  Pasties, with a history dating back to 18th century England, were a standard lunch that miners took down into the mines.  They are a meat and vegetable filled turnover with a pastry crust.  It was portable and it could be warmed up on the lamp that miners had on their helmets.  Some pasties had even had a built-in dessert of fruit on one end of the turnover.  How cool is that?

So if you’re in the area or if you want something fun to do, check out these festivals.  It’s a nice weekend trip and I’m sure there’ll be lots of good food.

My afternoon with a Beekman

Posted on Updated on


I had the good fortune of being able to attend a reading by author Josh Kilmer-Purcell at Schuler’s books in Lansing yesterday.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Josh, both he and his partner Brent Ridge, MD are the subject of the reality documentary on Planet Green called The Fabulous Beekman Boys.  It details the transition and struggles that two urbanites go through trying to develop a thriving business out of their farm called the Beekman.  They have a whole slew of artisanal products, including goat milk soaps (which are fabulous, of course!) and cheeses made with the help of the goats on the farm.  The products are available on their Beekman 1802 website, but according to Josh, they are out of the Blaak cheese and won’t have any more until June-ish so get on the wait list now!

The Spartan alum and ex-drag queen has authored a couple of books, two of which have been on the best-seller list.  At Schuler’s, he did a reading from his most recent book The Bucolic Plague (here’s a link to the an online review from the New York Times) and he talked about a dinner that he and his partner Brent had with Martha Stewart (Dr. Brent was VP of Martha Stewart Healthy Living before the Beekman needed some full time attention).  You’ll have to buy the book in order the get the whole story.  But it was nice to hear about it straight from Josh, well maybe not straight

He was so genuine and personable, like someone you’d known for years.  I’m sure if we’d met while he was at Michigan State we would have been best friends!  Of course, I was there long after he was gone; I think he said he graduated in ’91 whilst I graduated in around 2000 .  Always with the poor timing. . .  Anyhoo, I’m so glad that I got a chance to be there.  And the turnout was great given that there was only a week or so to plan the event.  I just wish that I could have remembered all the questions that I had to ask.  I did happen to remember them on the drive home, and came up with a couple of new ones.  Again with the poor timing. . .  But, thanks to Josh for coming back to the E.L. and sharing a little bit of yourself with us.  And thanks for the fabulous model walking.

Ham Day!

Posted on Updated on


Just wanted to say a “Happy National Glazed Ham Day“!  Not exactly sure how that came to be, but who doesn’t like a nice glazed ham?  Well, vegetarians, I guess. . . And vegans. . . And those with certain religious obligations. . .