More Than Just Cherries

_MG_2002There are t-shirts and bumper stickers for sale all over Northern Michigan with the slogan “Traverse City: More Than Just Cherries.”  This makes me laugh every time….a city so tied to its cherries that it needs a slogan to try and break away.  But it’s true, there is so much more to Traverse City than just cherries.  That being said, the cherries are pretty darn great!

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_MG_1929We’re big fans of King Orchards, a family owned and operated orchard in Central Lake, Michigan, just a short drive from the cottage.  They offer a variety of u-pick fruits as well as a farmstand with every variety of cherry product you can imagine.  This year we stocked up on buckets of sweet black cherries, apricots and raspberries.  Perhaps the most exciting thing of all was the cherry pitter, which the boys helped operate, and which led to many cherry based desserts including clafoutis and cherry crumble.  And let’s be honest, it also led to cherries being eaten by the fist-full.  Luckily, a quick dunk in the lake is all that was needed to scrub the boys of their cherry stains.

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Up North Day Tripping

u pick flower farmIs July flying by at warp speed, or is it just me?  We’re certainly making the most of our time, savoring every sweet moment of summer.  Looking at these pictures it seems as though we have covered quite a bit of ground in the past week, although it doesn’t feel like we’ve been rushing around.  Just the opposite, in fact.  Plenty of relaxing and downtime mixed in with fabulous day trips.  I stand by this fact wholeheartedly: there is no better place to day trip than Northern Michigan!

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_MG_2228My mom and I took a day to tour the Traverse City area, starting with the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in the morning, stopping in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons for coffee and treats, and eventually winding around to the most amazing organic tea farm, Light of Day Organics.  We tasted a flight of teas and wandered the tranquil property feeling as though we had found the very best secret garden in the whole world.  A garden bursting with healing herbs, fruits and tea plants.

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_MG_2247From there, we traveled along the winding country roads until we reached Leland and Suttons Bay, two charming towns with fabulous shops and eateries.  There was a vintage car show in town and I believe I found my next summer cruiser (perhaps better suited for a time when we don’t require two ginormous car seats).

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_MG_2281While trying to find an herb farm we only knew by memory, we happened upon Tandem Cider, a hard cider operation with the loveliest of gardens.  We stopped for a glass and a wander through the gardens before continuing on, and my mom and I remarked that “this is the thing about Up North- you never know what little gems you’re going to stumble upon.”

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_MG_2301Oh but the icing on the cake…the very best part of the day?  We happened upon a u-cut flower farm on the way to Suttons Bay, Omena Cut Flowers U-Pick Flower Farm.  It was the most magical place, rows of gorgeous flowers for sale by the stem, and a charming farmstand offering mason jars and scissors.  As we were finishing up with our bouquet, we had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Carolyn and we were able to learn about her farm, and her passion for providing people with the experience of cutting their own flowers.  She had so many great things to say about Suttons Bay, including a glowing report of the local school system, where she sent her kids from pre-k through to high school.  As if our gorgeous day trip wasn’t enough to convince me of a Northern Michigan move, the idea of a fabulous school system and a flower farm right down the road has me sold!

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Mackinac Island

_MG_2125This past week, we packed up the boys and squeezed into the car (there wasn’t an empty seat to be had) and made our pilgrimage to Mackinac Island.  It’s a bit of a drive, and then a ferry ride on top of that, and I’ll admit that when we finally got to the island and landed in the touristy town, I was feeling a bit exhausted and skeptical.  But after an evening stroll exploring the quiet residential streets, a bike ride around the Island’s perimeter, and a horse-and-buggy ride taking in the historical sites, I was sold (though I still find the town completely overwhelming- think fudge shops and cheesy t-shirt stalls aplenty).

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_MG_2076We stayed at Hotel Iroquois, a beautiful inn on the main strip.  The rooms were charmingly old-fashion, and the staff was friendly.  The dining area had a large lawn, which allowed us to enjoy a meal or two while the kids ran free.  And the kids were endlessly entertained by the stream of horse-drawn carriages that passed by our window (there are no cars allowed on the island!).

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_MG_2060We only stayed one-night, and that felt perfect.  This is going to sound loony- but I get a little anxious about staying in a place where the food choices are either fried or fudge.  If I can’t get a nice salad or smoothie somewhere, I just can’t stay for long.  But an overnight- that I can do.   Once I got the kids down for bed, I lit out for an evening walk where I wandered through the quiet residential streets, away from the crowds.  I was completely charmed by the homes, and the gorgeous landscaping.  The next morning on our carriage ride, the driver told us that all the horse-manure (and there is a TON) gets added to the soil, which explains why the gardens on the island are so beautiful.

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_MG_2185We didn’t get a chance to tour the Grand Hotel, but I did manage to walk by at sunset.  It is truly a grand building, and a bit Gatsby-like with everyone dressed in the mandatory formal wear.

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_MG_2106The next morning, we biked the perimeter of the island with the boys.  There’s a great variety of bike rental options on the island, and we had a great set-up for Vijay and Vik.  The 7 mile loop around the island is gorgeous- unfortunately I had my hands full and didn’t manage many pictures (besides these from my phone).

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2014-07-20_0002The bike path is lined with wild flowers leading to the beach, and shady forested patches.  It was such a peaceful respite from the busy town.  We followed our ride with a horse-drawn carriage tour, a total meltdown, a long ferry ride and a very trying car ride home.  I’m so glad we did it, but I’m so glad we’re back!

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Grass River Nature Preserve

_MG_1759On good boating days there is nothing we love more than piling in the ski boat and making the short, 15 minute ride to Grass River.  We kill the wake and drift slowly down the river, keeping our eyes peeled for all the creatures that call this magical place home.  On our first trip to the nature preserve we saw two loons no more than 15 feet from the boat, a pair of swans with a trail of fluffy little babes, and a turtle sunning himself on a log.  My dad bought the boys little fishing nets and they troll off the bow of the boat for minnows, surprising us all by catching a few every now and then.  Blind luck, I suppose!

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_MG_1766Spending our summers in Northern Michigan is one of the biggest gifts I am able to give my children.  It is that quintessential summer of running wild and free, catching frogs and minnows, biking up and down the dirt road with a whole pack of kids, coming home only for a quick bite to eat then back out to play and explore.  My kids get “unsupervised” play here, and by that I mean I don’t have to watch their every move.  On the rare occasion a car comes down, it is traveling no more than 5 miles an hour, and from the kitchen, I can look out and see them at play.  Every now and then I have to intervene and wipe away a tear, or mediate a dispute over scooters, but other than that, the kids get to PLAY and learn to work things out with both older and younger playmates.  I think it is the best thing ever.

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_MG_1763On rainy days, we can still head to Grass River and spend time in the nature center visiting the rescue snake, and playing around with the pelts and bones they have collected over time.  It is a very cool place, and if you’re in the area with young kids who are nature lovers, it is an absolute must.  As we’re here enjoying all of this I can’t help but wonder if I would be as enamored with the area if we lived here year round.  I wonder what the winters would be like, and if eventually, it would feel just like any other place.  Would it lose its summertime magic?  I’d love to hear from any Northern Michigan readers- what is year-round life like here?  I’m really feeling a pull.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes

IMG_4815Ahhh…Northern Michigan.  It’s like a breath of fresh air every summer.  The very freshest air you can imagine.  Our days at the cottage are filled with equal parts relaxation and adventure.  There is a great big yard where the kids can play, soccer nets and a basketball hoop, a beach where they can dig in the sand and a sweet little town just a scooter’s ride down the lane.  There is a living room filled with blocks and trucks, and piles of kids books for rainy day reading.  And, most importantly, there is Grammy and Papa, uncles and friends.  Oh yes, and the adventures- first on our itinerary was Sleeping Bear Dunes, the most gorgeous of National Parks just an hours ride from the cottage.

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IMG_2170We spent the day exploring the dunes, running through the sand and dune grass, and enjoying the sweeping views.  Oh yes, and digging, of course.

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IMG_2228One of my favorite views is of the DH Day Farm, which shines a pristine white against the rolling hills of grass.  You can see the farm from the top of the Dune Climb- it’s the only piece of civilization you can see, other than that it is all sand and sparkling water.

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IMG_4888There is always so much I want to share about Northern Michigan- last year I put together a guide, this year I think I’ll just share the highlights of our time here and I’ll make sure to provide details and links in case you ever fancy a visit.  When I mention I spend my summers here, people in New England kind of give me a funny look like, “How could that possibly compare to Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Newport…”  And yet I can think of no place in the world I would rather be.

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A Dress for the Fourth

_MG_1085This great wide blogging world is such an amazing place.  Every now and then you meet a blogger that you really connect with, and it is exciting to watch their lives unfold through their words and pictures.  Erin of Reading My Tea Leaves is one of those people.  We’ve only met once, years ago, but we’ve maintained an online friendship and I’d like to think that we’ve supported each other and cheered each other on through the years.  She recently gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Faye, and to celebrate I made a little summer dress and knitted wrap.  I was so excited to send them along their merry way a few weeks ago, and I was absolutely tickled when Erin posted pictures of her Fourth of July weekend- and there was Faye, looking resplendent in her little dress.  It’s worth noting for all you knitters out there that the wrap, Petite Artichaut, is quite a beautiful, though challenging knit. There are hardly two rows alike, so it really demands your attention, but it is amazing to watch it come together- like a tiny piece of origami.  The result is a delicate, heirloom-worthy knit.

_MG_1075We’re in Michigan now for the month, and I can’t wait to share some of the beauty with you.  Last year I wrote an in-depth guide to “My Michigan” and if you’re going to be in the area, you should check it out!  I hope you had a beautiful long weekend celebrating our great country…isn’t it nice to be in the swing of summer now!?

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Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 11.42.24 AM*there’s little Faye, by the seashore, in her dress (iphone pics courtesy of Erin)

Squam in the City

Six years ago, as a brand new, struggling writer, I attended my first Squam.  I was there to cover the weekend for UPPERCASE magazine, and I brought along my mom for moral support.  When the classes and festivities were over, I met Elizabeth at her house on the hill and interviewed her for my story.  A connection was made that has only grown deeper with time.  When she was looking for a new place to call home after leaving New Hampshire, I invited her to spend some time with me in Providence never dreaming that this would be the city where she would choose to move.  Lo and behold, months later, with Vijay, then only a tiny babe, strapped to my chest I waded through knee deep snow to check out apartments for Elizabeth.  Wouldn’t you know the apartment that she ended up choosing (or rather I chose it for her- “we’ll take it” I blurted to the agent, before even asking Elizabeth!), and where she still resides today, can be seen out my front window.

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2732023334_4fac2c8847_oElizabeth has fallen hard for this city, as I have since we moved here almost seven years ago.  I am so excited to share that Squam is now coming to Providence, offering an amazing roster of teachers.  Photography walks to capture both the gritty urban side along with the historic, cobblestone streets, perfume making with a local shop owner, mixed media, and historic walks through the neighborhoods of the city.  That doesn’t even touch on the great stuff that will be happening outside of class.  Providence has a world class restaurant scene- the local food movement here is off the hook.

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c9445-img_0359In fact, check out what the press has had to say about our little city this year:

WHY PROVIDENCE IS THE COUNTRY’S BEST SMALL CITY: Amazing architecture, great food, wall-to-wall culture — Rhode Island’s capital has it in spades.” – ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST 

“PROVIDENCE is a new destination for food-obsessed travelers as it is “home to one of the nation’s top cooking schools and a thriving restaurant scene.”- New York Magazine

ONE of AMERICA’S BEST CITIES FOR FOODIES - TRAVEL + LEISURE 

PROVIDENCE, unsurprisingly, has exceptional food, compelling art and architecture, a thriving gay scene and an inordinate number of very smart people. Yet the city remains unpretentious and affordable.” New York Times

Whatever you’re into, I’d love for you to join us here in Providence.  I’ll be popping in and out all weekend long, and I just know it is going to be a good time.  You can find out more (and register) HERE!

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A Walk to the Garden

_MG_1182The garden is in full swing right now as I pick the remaining lettuce and spinach to make room for my quickly growing tomatoes and snap peas.  I’ve stuck a few new things in my little plot this year including sunflowers, zucchini, and purple cabbage.  We’ll see how it goes.  I also tried some new varieties of old favorites- a white radish that was an epic fail, and this beautiful jeweled-tone carrot, which is shaping up to be a success.  Would you believe this gorgeous handful is just the thinnings of my carrot patch?  I’ll most likely chop them into a salad, as they’re too small for much else.  Still..those beautiful colors of nature…they’re really something, aren’t they?

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_MG_1013My little helpers make my garden a joyful place to be, despite their tendency to cause a wake of destruction everywhere they go.  Let’s just say we’ve had a few less spinach plants than we originally planned for thanks to eager little hands helping pull “weeds.”  But it’s all about learning and being together, is it not?  Honestly, our evening walks to the garden are often my favorite part of the day, when the heat is breaking and we’re all tuckered out from hours at the pool.  A little scooting, and a little picking…that’s where it’s at, I’ll tell you!

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Scout Tee- Take Two

_MG_0922I brought home the most beautiful stack of fabric from India- lightweight, colorful, breezy cotton.  I could barely bring myself to cut into it, until I put two and two together.  A Scout tee (the most perfect summer tee there ever was) and breezy, colorful, summery cotton- a match made in heaven!  I love my first Scout tee- and it has worn very nicely.  So clearly another was in order.

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_MG_0911As before, I extended the back.  From the side, you can see that this is quite a roomy tee with a bit of swing.  I suppose you could make it a tighter fit if you wanted, but I love the breeziness.  I think this just about completes my summer wardrobe, although I do have my eye on the Mercer Pattern as well as the about-to-be-released dress from Grainline Studio.  What I wouldn’t do for a few uninterrupted hours in the studio!

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Chocolate Buttermilk Cake and Fresh Strawberries

_MG_0815Is there any combination more decadent than strawberries and chocolate?  I think not.  We’re still on a major strawberry kick around here, and my latest creation is this insanely moist, rich chocolate buttermilk cake with whipped coconut cream and strawberries.  I came across The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook somewhere along the way in my travels.  I absolutely love cookbooks that also tell a story, which this book does in the form of snippets of life on a small Vermont dairy farm.  I love baking with buttermilk, often adding it to my pancakes to make them lighter and fluffier.  With this cake, the buttermilk adds moisture, helping to lighten the incredible chocolatey richness.

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_MG_0817I topped the cake with whipped coconut cream (be sure to use full fat coconut milk and pour off the water!) and heaps of fresh strawberries.  We ate this cake on the first official day of summer, which felt appropriate!

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_MG_0789(don’t you love Vijay stoically ‘driving’ the tractor, with strawberry juice staining his chin?)

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