Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, History and Food

We are going to introduce you to some small towns in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that you have probably never heard of unless you have a kid in college at Northern Michigan University, are an avid skier aspiring to be inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum, or interested in copper and iron ore mining history.  Come to find out these little towns provided a lot for us to do and are jammed packed with events in the summer time. In fact, we had trouble getting campsite reservations because of the popularity of these areas.

Marquette/Ishpeming/Negaunee

The weekend we chose to come to this area coincided with the Blueberry Festival, the Italian Festival, and the summers' big arts and crafts fair.  I’m a lover of blueberries and Betsy is always game for a good hometown festival so we packed up Spirit and headed to downtown Marquette to the 17th Annual Blueberry Festival.  It started at 10 a.m. and we got there at 10:01 because we didn’t want to miss anything. The festival takes place in downtown where city streets shun cars so pedestrians are free to stroll along enjoying blueberry lemonade, blueberry pizza, blueberry beer and perusing the local artisans crafts and outdoor stores with amazingly good sales.  We don’t shop much because our house is full and space is limited but when it comes to deals on good outdoor wear, watch out credit card. 

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Ishpeming is a little Michigan town that we had never heard of before but turns out to be the birthplace of organized skiing in America and home to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum.  Here is a place where you are introduced to America’s best skiers and snowboarders in a 15,000 square-foot building that contains exhibits, a library, films, and a comprehensive history of organized skiing.  The 400+ person honor roll at this place includes the sports greats like Picabo Street, Johnny Mosely, and Phil Mahre. 

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The towns of Ishpeming (and neighboring Negaunee) developed as a result of mining in the Marquette Iron Range which holds vast deposits of iron ore that has been mined continuously from 1847.  So it’s appropriate that the Michigan Iron Industry Museum be located in this area.  The museum highlights more than 125 years of mining history in Michigan and tells the story of the men who worked in the cold damp depths through interactive exhibits, entertaining films and educational displays.  And, it’s FREE (donations appreciated)! 

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The importance of iron ore in this area can still be seen today in downtown Marquette after all this mining industry in the Marquette Range has been continuously in operation since 1847.  Evidence of the iron ore industry still plays out along the downtown water front where the ore docks (shown below) stand ready to fill the 1,000–foot long Great Lakes freighters.  To learn more about the rich mining history in this area we headed north up the Keweenaw Peninsula.

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Keweenaw Peninsula

The Keweenaw Peninsula is alive with mining history mostly due to local residents who feared loosing their heritage.  In the 1970’s, as residents watched the demolition of historic structures in these long-established mining towns they felt an unease about what was taking place and formed a grass roots effort to petition congress and establish a National Historical Park.  In 1992, congress granted that wish and established the Keweenaw National Historical Park to preserve and interpret sites, structures, and stories related to copper mining on the peninsula.  In and around the National Park are over a dozen independently operated Keweenaw Heritage Sites that work in partnership to expand the realm of historic preservation and interpretation.

In the midst of trees and water of the Keweenaw a shiny surface grabbed the attention of early Native Americans 7,000 years ago and so copper mining began.  The copper was so pure, Native Americans used it straight out of the ground and crafted it into beads, tools, and ornaments.  Douglass Houghton, the Michigan state geologist, was sent to the area to map the reserves.  He discovered what turned out to be the largest deposit of pure elemental copper in the world.  Where the Native Americans revered the copper and took only what they needed, the white men saw a resource to exploit.  By the 1870’s the mining operations caught international attention and thousands of immigrants flooded the area – bringing with them their mining skills, culture, and food that is still evident in the area today in restaurants, festivals, and community events.  By far, the copper rush in Michigan was more profitable than the gold rush in California.  So why the need for copper?  Copper was used in making munitions, as a sheathing on wooden-hulled ships, for decorative building features and as a component in making bronze and brass alloys.  Later copper became important for making electrical wiring and water piping and now an important component in computer chips.20170724_180757

We parked the RV at Houghton RV Park and were lucky to get a spot in this small but great park. (More on that in a future RV Park Review.)  The campground was in a convenient location to exploring the peninsula and within walking distance to downtown Houghton.  Plus we had a water view out our front window and a great patio that was a wooden deck overhanging Portage Lake which made for a nice place to sit and watch the sunsets. 

A visit to the Keweenaw would not be complete without a tour deep into a mine.  We chose the Quincy Mine which is affiliated with the national park and takes you down the midwest's only cog-rail tram where you enter the dark and damp environment of a copper mine.  The deepest point in the mine was 9,260 feet below the surface earning the title of the world’s longest mine shaft.  We had a wonderful guide who was extremely knowledgeable about the mine's history and operation which made for a fascinating two-hour tour.  The most significant advancement in mining came when the pneumatic drill was introduced.   This revolutionary machine meant that companies could significantly increase in production, employ less skilled workers, and reduce the number of employees.  After visiting the depths of the mine we moved to the massive hoist house located above ground.   The Quincy Mine had the largest steam-powered hoist ever built and was capable of hauling 10 tons of iron ore up from the shaft depths at 36 miles per hour.  Thus making this a far more efficient mine than others. 

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Continuing on up the peninsula you come to the town of Calumet where the once thriving mining town is now practically a museum in itself.  In its heyday Calumet was the center of copper mining in the United States with a population that swelled to 95,000 people.  Here you will find the National Park Service’s visitor center – a two story interactive museum housed in an amazing old building with so much historical character still in tact and highlighted.  Within the Calumet Historical District are some half dozen other museums and historical sites to explore.  We wandered down to the Calumet Theater which is one of many opulent buildings built to serve the growing community.  In its heyday, the theater was one of the most elegant theaters in the midwest.  In a time when gas lights were the norm, the theater had electric.  Box seats, a sculpted curved balcony and gallery and Louis 14th style arch set this venue apart from others and added to the opulence of the town.  Today the Calumet Theater is open for self-guided and guided tours and still operates as a public venue offering musical, theatrical, and community events. 

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At the very northern tip of the Keweenaw is an outdoorsy little town called Copper Harbor whose slogan is “where the road ends and adventure begins.”  While summer activities here were in full swing it was clear this was a year-round active time (but we weren’t staying around to see what winter activities looked like!).  The town is where coastal charm, outdoor spirit, and historical reflection co-mingle.  We stopped at the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park for a look around and found ourselves busy for a couple of hours.  The U.S. Army built the fort in 1844 to “keep the peace” in Michigan's copper country and now serves as a living museum demonstrating how army life in the UP was in the mid 19th century.  Many of the buildings (12 of which are original) are restored to period time and have interesting exhibits and beautiful grounds.  There is also a campground on the property, lake for fishing or boating, lighthouse for gazing at, beach for swimming, picnic areas, and hiking trails.   

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What happened to Michigan’s copper industry?  The production peaked in 1916 at 267 million pounds but declined severely after WWI when copper deposits were depleted and mine profitability waned.  A year-long labor unrest also hurt the industry and saw the rise of strip mining for copper in other areas.  The Quincy Mine nicknamed “Old Reliable” finally closed in 1945 and today there are no mines in operation. 

Before we left the UP there were some foods we had been repeatedly told were “must-eats” by Michiganders.  One was the highly touted whitefish caught from the cold waters of Lake Superior and the other was the hearty dish consumed by miners called pasties.  One of our tour guides at the Quincy Mine told us the best whitefish was right across the street at Peterson’s Fish Market and Restaurant.  It got great reviews online and pictures showed it had a fun divey decor and outside seating perfect for enjoying the sunny day.  Verdict on the fish: Sorry Michiganders, you can keep your whitefish we still prefer New England-style beer battered cod.  At least we tried!  Pasties we did like and have continued to wander into pastie restaurants across the UP and even left Michigan with some in our freezer.  For more on pasties check out our blog on Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Michigan.

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We spent a good two months exploring the UP of Michigan.  In just a short time one realizes that mining is why this area was settled.  Waterfront skylines are dominated by massive ore docks ready to fill freighters, historical museums reflect on the mining boom with memorabilia, and the scars from mining on the landscape are still visible.  Today, the UP attracts those seeking outdoor adventure.  Outdoor enthusiasts will find this area a playground with an impressive amount of land in public ownership managed by state and federal agencies and there are plenty of acres to zip through the woods in an off-road-vehicle, hundreds of lakes to paddle, and miles of trails to roam. 







Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Honey Grilled Chicken with Citrus Salad and Toasted Almonds

It’s been a while since a recipe has shown up on the blog and we’re sorry about that.  Not that we haven’t been cooking or eating (ha, ha) but I just never got around to writing things down.  Some readers have expressed interest in us (well, really me, since Betsy doesn’t cook) sharing recipes of dishes that show up on our Instagram feed.  We heard you and decided to put down the spatula and start typing. 

Labor Day weekend means the end of summer so I thought this was the appropriate time to publish a recipe that has been one of our favorite dishes of the summer.  It has all the things that make summer great – light up the grill, throw on some meat and balance it out with summer sweet fruit and a cool glass of wine. 



The recipe was adapted from Saveur Magazine and can have lots of variations depending on what you like and have on hand.  We prefer chicken breasts on the bone which I like to cut in half which helps with even cooking.  Grapefruit, orange, and lemon are my usual citrus standards but if there is blood orange or meyer lemon available, I am all over it.  I like to marinate the chicken for a couple hours but 30 minutes works too. The dish gets topped with nuts for some crunch and texture so feel free to use pistachios, toasted pine nuts, or my choice - toasted almonds.  The citrus in this dish balances out the sweetness the honey brings to the marinade. Just be aware that honey (or any other sweet ingredient) may lead to charring from flare ups and a darker skin.  I like to cook the chicken under indirect or low heat to prevent too much blackening before the chicken is cooked.  And, after I take the chicken off to rest, the citrus supremes go on the grill to caramelize.  What is a “supreme” you say?  A fancy culinary term for when you cut off the rind and slice between each membrane to yield pieces of fruit.  But you certainly don’t have to do that step.  You could just cut it up anyway you like.  This is your dinner, make it what you like. 

Serving size: 2

Ingredients:

12  cup fresh orange juice
14 cup honey
1 Tbsp. rosemary, minced
2 sprigs thyme 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 chicken breasts on the bone, cut in half
12 cups cilantro or micro greens
2 Tbsp. almonds, toasted 
1 lemon, supreme
1 navel orange, supreme
1 red grapefruit, supreme

Instructions:

Mix orange juice, honey, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper in a bowl; add chicken and toss to combine. Marinate 30 minutes, or until ready to use. Heat a gas grill to medium. (Alternatively, heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.) Remove chicken from marinade, and transfer to grill.  Cook skin-side down, flipping once, and basting occasionally with remaining sauce.  Cook 12–15 minutes until done. Transfer chicken to a platter and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.  Place citrus supremes on a grill pan and grill two minutes on each side until slightly charred and warm.  Add supremes, cilantro, and almonds to the chicken and serve.   

Simple and easy for a little taste of summer.  














Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Michigan

Now that we shared places to go and things to see in Michigan, let us enlighten you on the food and drink that has captivated us while traveling through this large and diverse state.  Because you know we did not spend over three months exploring this state and not dive into the food and beverage scene.  

May in Michigan means fresh asparagus.  We quickly learned asparagus was king in the spring as farmers markets and grocery stores touted their local delicacy.  Much to our happiness, we discovered there was an asparagus farm right down the road from our campground.  Since neither of us had ever visited an asparagus farm we were interested.  Asparagus is planted in rows like corn and when the little spears reach the desired size they are hand-picked.  The most noticeable traits of fresh asparagus is how sweet it is and how tender the stalks are making them perfect to eat raw.  Usually, fat asparagus has woody skin that I prefer to peel off, but that was not the case with these delights.  Pretty soon I was making asparagus soup, asparagus salad, grilled asparagus, and anything asparagus.  The farm sold it by the pound for $2.25 on the honor system.  Love that!

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Michigan cherries definitely deserve a mention as the state produces 75% of the country’s tart cherries.  You notice cherry trees everywhere which can only mean cherry everything.  Cherry pies, cherry wine, cherry barbecue sauce, cherry dog treats, cherry salsa . . . basically cherry everything.  It’s Betsy’s favorite fruit.  Cherry Republic is one such store/restaurant where you can explore and taste the wonderful world of cherries.  They have a large online following so you can get cherry everything shipped anywhere you like.  But, we think you will agree that the pinnacle of the cherry world is the good ole’ cherry pie.  Lots of places advertise “the best” cherry pie but the one we heard the most about was The Cherry Hut and had to try it.  A la mode, please.

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What do you get when you blend sugar, butter, and milk in a copper kettle over low heat then cool on a marble table?  If your guess is Fudge, you are correct.  We never saw so many fudge shops anywhere in the U.S. as we did in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. In fact, it was a little ridiculous but the good news is that all the shops offer free samples so you can fill up before you know it.  This creamy confection dates back to the late 1880’s when a woman in Baltimore claims to have whipped up the first batch.  But fudge came to Michigan shortly there after and Mackinaw Island is recognized as America’s Fudge Capital where 14 fudge shops make over 10,000 pounds per day during the peak travel season.  When tourists flocked to this area at the turn of the 19th century, they sought out candy as a special treat.  The smell of the candy cooking is luring enough pull you from the sidewalk into a confectionery.  Today's fudge is flavored in countless ways from traditional like nuts and fruit to the more creative filling of peanut butter, rum, and marshmallows.  Here’s a tip: all the stores offer free samples so you literally could eat a half pound without paying a cent. 

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When you venture up into the Upper Peninsula is when you will become familiar with pasties (pronounced PAS-TEE).  Think pot pie filling in a hand pie.   Dough is filled with meat, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga and baked to golden brown and served with ketchup or gravy. To understand pasties you have to know that the UP was, and still is, mining country.  Pasties were introduced to the UP in the mid-1800’s by European and Scandinavian immigrants who came to work in the copper and iron ore mines.  The miners would open their metal lunch pail and use their candle to heat the pastie thus providing a hearty lunch while working long hours in cold damp mines.  Pasties variations come from the different ethnicity preferences and culinary traditions.  For example, the Finnish people added carrots to their pasties.  Today, pasties remain pretty much the same as were around in the mid-1800’s.  We only found one pasty shop (Roy's Pasties and Bakery) that had creative variations like chicken and broccoli or turkey with cranberries and stuffing.  Nevertheless, we found them very hearty and filling.  It is evident pasties are not just a tourist food with pasties shops in every town and in the frozen food section of the grocery store.  How cute is the pastie below with a cutout of the Upper Peninsula on it?

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You only need to be in Michigan a short time to known that the craft beer scene has exploded.  Every town we stopped in had at least one, and usually two or three breweries.  To make all that beer, you need hops.  Michiganders realized their climate was ideal for growing hops and got to work.  Hops are a fast-growing vine (growing 18 feet in six weeks) upwards along rope until they are harvested in the fall.  Michigan is a distant fourth in overall production in the United States with Washington state claiming 77% of the total production but is important with so many breweries wanting to source locally.  The hop plant is dioecious meaning they have separate male and female plants. While only the female plant produces that distinctive cone used in the brewing process, it is the male plant that produces lupulin - the oils and resins that give hops their aroma.  After harvesting, hops are dried and incorporated in the brewing process as a flavoring and a stability agent in beer adding the bitter, zesty, or citric flavors.

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Some of you may be saying, “wait, what about Michigan wine?”  You’re right, we did skip over it in this post but that’s only because we covered that in previous posts (click here and here) and not because we shunned the grape goodness.  We apologize profusely if this post makes you hungry.  Look at it this way, at least you didn’t put on the pounds we did researching these subjects for your benefit!




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan's Upper Peninsula

The area known as “Pictured Rocks” along Lake Superior’s south shore in Michigan was bestowed the title of America’s first National Lakeshore (NL) in 1966.  The beauty of this park is its towering colorful sandstone cliffs climbing some 200 feet above the emerald waters of Lake Superior.  Pictured Rocks NL was set aside by Congress “to preserve the shoreline, cliffs, beaches, and dunes, and to provide an extraordinary place for recreation and discovery” and lures hundreds of thousands of people to witness first-hand its beauty. 

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The name Pictured Rocks come from the streaks of mineral stains that color the sculptured cliffs.  A quick glance of the cliffs is all it takes to realize this place was appropriately named.  The long narrow park hugs Lake Superiors' shoreline for some 40 miles making the best way to see this park being from the water.  We had intentions of putting our kayaks in the lake to view the decorated cliffs but quickly abandoned that idea the more we learned about how treacherous that could be if you were not adequately skilled and prepared.   Our kayaks are recreational boats perfectly suitable for calm waters unlike sea kayaks which would be more appropriate.  We learned that storms and seas can kick up at any time turning the water into a dangerous place to be especially with tall cliffs preventing you from exiting the water.  Then we started reading horror stories of water rescues and drownings.  We kept the boats on the car and opted to pay for an evening cruise on a tour boat.  Clearly the better choice.

Unfortunately, the evening of our cruise was completely overcast and the spectrum of colors that decorate the rocks were not as striking as pictures show.  Still the narrated cruise was a great way to see the park and an enjoyable evening. 

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The disappointment of this park for us was that it is not very dog-friendly.  We were expecting to hike some of the trails but quickly learned that dogs are not allowed on most sections of the park.  In fact, except for a few very short trails they are only allowed in campgrounds and parking lots.  Learning that, we shifted our focus to the nearby Hiawatha National Forest which proved to be a great outdoor playground perfect for hiking and kayaking.  The forest encompasses nearly 900,000 acres and has numerous campgrounds, boat launches, hiking trails, and picnic areas … all of which are dog-friendly.

Why not end the post talking about the best pizza we have eaten in a long time.  So good that we were there twice within our five-night stay.  Pictured Rocks Pizza makes a thin crust wood-fired pie with an amazing array of toppings.  They make the pizza at a counter in front of you as you point out the deliciousness that you want as your creation.  The inside seating area is small and since one afternoon was so nice we elected to eat outside on a shaded picnic table.

One day we drove about five miles outside of town to Muldoons Pasties and Gifts to try their award-winning pasties. That is pronounced "Pass-tee" and not what first came to your mind!  This is an iconic food dish of the Upper Peninsula.  Texas has its barbecue, Philly has their cheese steaks, Maine has their lobster, and the UP has their pasties.  Immigrants from Cornwall, England came to the UP to find work in the copper mines and brought with them this dish.  

Pasties proved to be the perfect hearty meal for men working 10-hour days in cold damp environments as they are filled with meat, potatoes, onions, and rutabagas in a pastry crust.  They were heated with their miners lamps in their metal lunch pails.  Since the miners hands were dirty, pasties were the perfect "one-handed meal" that you could hold and eat leaving just a small piece of dirty crust to discard.  To this day, they remain a staple and now have different variations adding chicken, carrots and other vegetables. They are usually served with gravy or ketchup and are quite delicious.