Married in late August and celebrating the event at an outdoor reception reminiscence of Bilbo’s 111th Birthday Party (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), my bride and I had long-desired a Michigan Honeymoon.
There was first camping on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, at a site found after hiking along the ridge of a steep bluff amid the poplars and dune grass.
Our next stop would be a bed & breakfast in Leeland. And so we made our way from the Manistee National Forest up picturesque Highway 31 and then continued north on M-22 where, somewhere between Empire and Glen Arbor, a rustic roadside stand drew us in with its fresh blackberries, blueberries, and vegetables being sold out of a weather-worn wood shack. What really began to unlock my inspiration for a recipe was a fresh herb garden behind the stand. Using a pair of scissors, we gingerly clipped our share of fresh mint, sage, and rosemary. And that’s when I began to dream of cooking dinner at our ultimate destination: a private log cabin on the cool, rocky shores of the greatest, deepest, most mysterious of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior. Frozen steaks were tucked away on a bed of dry ice in the car, and I didn’t know what sort of recipe I wanted to create, only that I wanted to gather fresh ingredients as we made our way further and further north, purchasing from outdoor markets, such as the one we were at now.
Pulling away from the roadside market, we began heading to our next destination: The Great Lakes Tea & Spice Company, a place I had been desiring to take my new bride. The Company inhabited a quaint white wood building in Glen Arbor. It was there that we picked up a canister of their award-winning Sweetwater (Bourbon) Vanilla Tea. We would be sweetening the tea, by the way, from a jar of honey (a wedding gift) that was given to us by a bee-keeper, who had explained the etymology of the word “honeymoon” as meaning to be enjoying “honey” for the 28 days following marriage (the number of days in, among other things, the cycle of the “moon”). We tarried a bit in Glen Arbor, wine-tasting, and left for the bed & breakfast in Leeland, staying just a head of a series of summer storms that would roll through the Leelanau Peninsula that night…
A decision was made the next morning, as we left behind the town of Leeland (which has all the feel of a fishing village in Maine), that we would meander our way up to our private retreat on Lake Superior by passing through Traverse City and Petoskey. Serendipitously, we parked near the river walk in Traverse City on a day when the City Farmers Market was in full swing (and during peak season, too!). We purchased, among other fresh produce, a brown paper bag of Chanterelle Mushrooms: I wanted something earthy, wild, and organic; and these certainly fit the bill. The day’s richest moment, however, came when we stopped at the Petoskey State Park. There, I was able to stroll along the white sands in the brilliant sun as the breakers crashed and rolled in. Despite the thunder storms that had swept through northwest Michigan the previous night and the strong breezes that followed in their wake, the clouds broke sometime after noon, and the day was surprisingly warm.
It wasn’t until we left Petoskey and crossed over into the Upper Peninsula that the temperatures began to drop significantly. We now passed into grayer skies and intermittent showers. Now Michigan may be the state of twin peninsulas, but they’re fraternal twins: in the northern country its landscape is rockier, its weather cooler, and its feel more ancient, more mythical, more Native. It was here that we would spend the remainder of our honeymoon, exploring–among other wonders–the expansive, majestic Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore where the white sand beaches and turquoise waters mix with juggernauts of rock, pine, and the unrelenting winds of this Northern Sea.
Toward the end of our week’s honeymoon, we carved out an evening to prepare and cook an exquisite meal, a meal that we enjoyed listening to the haunting sounds of Celtic music, which somehow seemed a fitting musical score for our secluded place on the shores of the great lake. My Irish bride created a center piece for the table using slate rocks gathered by the lake shore and then accenting them with heather, yellow flowers, and tea lights.
Our entrée was, of course, a succulent strip steak accompanied by a side of Chanterelles, sautéed in a sauce of olive oil, butter, cream, fresh herbs, and spices (please see Chanterelle Mushrooms in Cream Sauce): I can think of no more perfect way to enjoy a steak in the Northern Country than with the woodsy and aromatic flavors of the Chanterelle, where the yellowish orange color of this mushroom mimics the color of the Birch and Tamarack this time of year.
Prior to our steak dinner I had placed plump, ripe blackberries; blueberries; and sliced strawberries in a mixture of honey and fine whiskey (the whiskey, like the honey, a wedding gift). Left to marinate as we enjoyed our dinner, they were now ready to be used for desert. Taking a basic recipe for short bread, I had added to the batter some honey and the dry Sweetwater (Bourbon) Vanilla Tea. Once done baking I placed a piece of shortbread in a bowl, topped it with the marinated fresh berries, drizzled them with the marinade (now a sauce infused with the berries’ juices), and served it up with vanilla bean ice cream and a garnish of the fresh mint. Down by the lake shore, next to a crackling fire, we relished this desert under a late summer sky.