Author Archives: Lesley

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This summer, we took our first multi-generational girls' vacation; just Grammy Eats, Mini Eats, and me. It's been on my mom's list to visit Mackinac Island in Michigan for many years (we have relatives outside Detroit and my mom spent summers visiting as a child), so I decided to plan a trip for us. (Side note: Mackinac and Mackinaw are both pronounced as Mackinaw.)

Southern/Central Michigan
We started out in southern Michigan, where we stayed overnight in Coldwater on the way to Mackinaw City. Southern Michigan is dotted with small towns (townships) like Coldwater that are popular with boaters and other lake-goers as well as apple farms and apple mills. Most have a quaint downtown area with beautiful homes, many of which are Dutch and English styles from the late 1800s.

For dinner, we ate at Coldwater Garden Family Dining. It was an unassuming place that from the outside, reminded me of a Shoney's, but I was actually pretty impressed with the menu. Y'all, they had saganaki! I love saganaki (flaming cheese swimming in white wine, served with pita bread), so I was very happy. Also, Mini got to order blintzes for dinner, I also had a nice salad, and Grammy got to have her meatstuffs, so we were all very happy.

The next day, we stopped in another town along the way and ate at the most delightful Mennonite-run deli in Ithaca, Michigan, Hearthstone Oven. The breads and pastries at this restaurant were unbelievably good. I had a grilled cheese on fresh-baked sourdough that was fantastic. Mini had her first brioche sandwich. Also featured: soft drinks with the good ice!

Before getting back on the road, we stopped by the Apple Barrel Cider Mill for apple cider slushes and caramel-apple cider donuts. You absolutely must stop by a cider mill when you're in southern Michigan. What a treat.

Be sure to stop by a cider mill for treats, including cider slushies.

I booked our vacation only three months in advance, so accommodations were limited. Almost nothing available on the island and very little selection in Mackinaw City. I thought Mackinaw City would have a lively, walkable downtown (like Estes Park or Gatlinburg), but it was not very busy and many stores were closed. Dining options were limited. Everything was limited! There was not even a drug store in town. So if you plan to go, book well in advance to stay on the island. An island stay requires leaving your car in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace and taking the ferry over. No motorized traffic is allowed on Mackinac Island.

Regardless of where you stay, there are several things you must do:
1. Take a drive over the Mackinac Bridge (it connects the Mitten to the Upper Peninsula, not to Mackinac Island). If you don't want to drive yourself, there are trolley tours available.
2. Take the ferry to Mackinac Island. We took Shepler's Ferry and got advanced tickets online for a discount. We also took a morning trip that included an extra 20 minutes to sail under the bridge.
3. Spend a day on Mackinac Island
4. Take a trip over the bridge and up to Sault Ste. Marie.

Drive over Mackinac Bridge and stop at the park on the other side for a photo

Mackinac Island
Our visit to Mackinac Island started off with a box of fudge (tourists are called "fudgies") and a horse-drawn carriage ride (very worth it). I bought fudge at a number of places, but my favorite was from The Murray Hotel. As advertised, it was the creamiest! Our carriage ride offered a great tour of the island, including a stop at Arch Rock. After the tour, we walked around a bit looking for a place for lunch. The plan had been to go to the Grand Hotel, but it stopped serving lunch at 2 p.m. and also had a dress code (oops). Additionally, we thought we'd visit the hotel, but they charge $10 per person (even children) just to access the property. We decided it wasn't worth it. Luckily, we were able to get lunch at The Gate House, which is associated with the Grand Hotel and had excellent food and service, reasonable prices and a lovely patio.

View of Mackinac Bridge from Shepler's Ferry
A "fudgie" poses in front of her carriage
Arch Rock overlooking Lake Huron (note the beautiful water)
Mackinac's Grand Hotel (about as close as you can get to it without paying admission)
Mackinac Island
Marquette Park on Mackinac Island
Fudge shop and carriage on Mackinac Island

Sault Ste. Marie
Lake Huron is beautiful and the beaches in Mackinaw City are generally nice, but the water is too cold for my southern blood, so we didn't spend much time on the beach. Instead, we took a day trip to the Upper Peninsula to Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo Saint Marie"). While there, we visited Sherman Park to dip our toes in a second Great Lake and watch the industrial water traffic float by.

Afterward, we parked downtown and had lunch at the Lock View restaurant. I had my second of what I have now deemed The Michigan Salad (greens, nuts, and dried cherries with varying other toppings). I'm now hooked on dried cherries in a salad! Post-lunch, Grammy Eats went to view the Soo Locks (where the boats pass on St. Mary's River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron) while I accompanied Mini Eats through the shops. Sault Ste. Marie was lovely and I discovered that Sasquatch hunting is a big tourist draw, so I was definitely among my people. The land between the Mackinac Bridge and Sault Ste. Marie in the UP was sparsely populated and largely forested, so I can understand why locals needed a reason to give tourists to spend some money.

As much as I enjoyed shopping and talking with the locals (all very nice), I do regret missing out on seeing the locks. So make some time for that if you go. And the shipwreck museum as well.

We spent three nights in Mackinaw City, which was just long enough to spend a day on Mackinac Island, visit the UP, and spend a little time in the area.

The second of FOUR "Michigan Salads" I had. Dried cherries and nuts made salads something I looked forward to!
A big activity in the Upper Peninsula is Sasquatch hunting. We found one! I loved this store, by the way.
The Lock View restaurant was across the street from Soo Locks and was a fun old-school place with great food.

Northern and Western Michigan
We took the scenic route from Mackinaw City to our next destination, Empire. Highway 31 took us through numerous towns along Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay, including Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. It was definitely worth it to drive through these beautiful towns. Lovely architecture and lake views often on both sides of the road.

Empire/Glen Arbor
Empire is a small town that is actually within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore designated area (and is the location of the official visitors center). We stayed at the Empire Lakeshore Inn, which technically walking distance to the very popular Empire Beach (though it was a bit long for my preference). The hotel was lovely and no-frills, but having booked so late in the year, I was happy to get it. Vacation rentals are the way to go in this area (particularly in Glen Arbor), but should be booked a year or so in advance.

Though the beach is lovely (Lake Michigan is stunning) and the locals swim there, the water is still very cold for the average southerner. I'd estimate it was in the upper 70s, which is at least 10 degrees too cold for me. I enjoyed it anyway. Note: Empire Beach gets particularly busy around sunset because the view is just spectacular. Sunset is late in the summertime, though--9:30pm!

The must-visit restaurant in the area is Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. In addition to the restaurant, there is a gift store with all things cherry for sale. It's a fantastic place. I also visited Tiffany's Cafe, Shipwreck Cafe, and Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire and enjoyed all three. There's also an amazing chocolatier in town, Grocer's Daughter. Their products--particularly the handmade chocolates and fudgesicles--are worth the trip.

Cherry Republic gift store and restaurant
cherry ice cream at Cherry Republic--a must!
Tiffany's Cafe in Empire--grab a Vernor's ginger ale with lunch!
Empire Beach near sunset (taken about 8:30 pm!)

Sleeping Bear Dunes
The real highlight of this portion of our trip was Sleeping Bear Dunes. I'm not much of a hiker these days, so we started out with an early (started around 8:30am for good photos) drive on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. There are a number of stops to take great photos and the views of both Glen Lake and Lake Michigan are amazing. After the scenic drive, we went to the dune climb, which was lots of fun. It's important to note that even though it seems like you can get to the top of the dune and see Lake Michigan, no, you cannot. At the top, there's more dune (a second top!) and then from there, it's another hour or more in the sand to get to the Lake Michigan overlook. If that's what you want to see, take plenty of water! You will get to see a great view of Glen Lake, though. Another important note: do the Dune Climb before 11 am or so or in the early evening because the sand gets hot and it's difficult to climb in shoes.

Lake Michigan overlook with the "sleeping bears" far in the background
Lake Michigan overlook with "sleeping bears (the green-covered mounds) in the background (and South and North Manitou Island)
panorama of the Dune Climb (from our second visit)
first visit to the Dune Climb
the second "top" of the Dune Climb. Lake Michigan is way off in the distance over more dunes
the second dune "top"; from this view you can see Little Glen Lake (off to the right is a view of Alligator point)

While in the area, we also visited several lighthouses and other towns and beaches as well as two local orchards (Northern Michigan features cherries, which were just coming into season in mid-July). Here are the must-do activities for this area:
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and Dune Climb
2. A swim or visit to Empire Beach. There's a great playground and wonderful views of Lake Michigan.
3. Go to Cherry Republic. Buy dried cherries for yourself and for friends. Eat at the restaurant and have cherry pie and cherry ice cream for dessert.
4. Visit Historic Glen Haven. This restored village is now essentially a collection of small museums. It also has a wonderful beach.
5. Visit an orchard (or two or three). We visited Gallagher's Farm Market and Bakery and got cherry donuts, wine, and other treats as well as blueberries and cherries (and visited the petting zoo, too). Across the street at Jacob's Corn Maze, we got to pick our own cherries, blueberries, and the absolute best raspberries I've ever tasted.
6. Take a scenic drive on M22 and up to Leelenau State Park and visit the lighthouse. Be sure to stop in Leland for lunch or dinner. We had lunch at the Village Cheese Shanty, which was delicious. But other restaurants have lakeview seating.
7. Look for "Petoskey stones" along any of the many lakeshores.

Lake Michigan from Glen Haven Beach. In the distance are North Manitou and South Manitou Islands (accessible via ferry from Leland but there's not much there)
Gallagher's Farm Market
Cherry treats at Gallagher's Farm Market
picking cherries at Jacob's Corn Maze
Historic Fish Town in Leland, Michigan
Grand Traverse Lighthouse

We didn't do much else while in the area (I took some time to visit a friend), but there are lots of other activities, like boating and kayaking as well as swimming (for those who can tolerate cold water).

Overall, we had a great visit to Michigan. I'm already planning another visit, though I plan to stick with western Michigan. I'll definitely visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes area again but also would like to visit Holland, Michigan to go to the Dutch Village, the museums, and the gardens.

For our ten year anniversary, I wanted a special trip that involved lots of warmth, lots of sunshine, little humidity, and few allergens. In April, options are limited, so I decided on Palm Springs, California. I knew enough not to go during the Coachella music festivale, but what I didn’t know is that just past Coachella is yet another music festival (a country music festival), which I discovered *after* purchasing non-refundable plane tickets. Ha! So what we saved in airfare was spent on the hotel, but it ended up being very worth it. So here are some highlights from our trip.

Palm Springs airport
Outdoor concourse at the Palm Springs airport
Palm Springs airport

We had an early flight (on a Saturday) to take full advantage of our short time. We flew directly into Palm Springs, which has an amazing airport designed by famed architect Donald Wexler. The architecture was definitely a draw for us, so it was a treat to be greeted with this lovely, airy structure.

After getting a car, we headed straight for lunch at Native Foods Cafe. California vegan cuisine was a great start to our trip. I had the sesame kale macro bowl; Mr. Eats had the Bangkok curry bowl. Both were delicious.

Native Foods Cafe

Afterward, we checked into The Wesley Hotel, which is actually a building of short-term rental units. It’s in a fantastic location on Riverside drive in the lovely Deepwell Estates neighborhood. We frequently took advantage of the complimentary bikes to explore the area’s beautiful mid-century homes. One reason I chose this hotel is that the set-up is classic mid-century hotel court: the units are in a low-slung building that surround a pool and hot tub that has views of the mountains. It also had a mini-kitchen that allowed us to have breakfast at the hotel each morning and save lunch leftovers for dinner around the pool each night.

Wesley Hotel pool

Though on our first night, we headed out to Joshua Tree National Park to catch the sunset over the Coachella Valley. It was about a 45 minute drive up to the Joshua Tree northwest entrance. We drove Park Boulevard to Keys View, which offers a spectacular view of the valley across Palm Springs and even to the Salton Sea. It was a bit smoggy as the westerly winds came in from Los Angeles, though. On the way back, we stopped at Del Taco (which we love); the 8 layer burrito for me and two Beyond Meat tacos for Mr. Eats (who hasn’t eaten beef for several years now, so it was quite a treat for him). Note: if you want to see the sunset from Keys View, get there a bit early because it gets crowded.

Joshua Tree
Vista from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. Looks over the Coachella Valley toward the Salton Sea.
The crowd at Keys View

On Sunday, we met friends from the LA area who drove in to have brunch with us at Lulu California Bistro, which is a bit of a Palm Springs institution (their recommendation, a good one!). The restaurant is lively and fun and the menu is classic California cuisine. After brunch, we drove around the northern area of old Palm Springs to enjoy some of the famous architecture. For fun, we also stopped in to see an open house in the area. We were very clear to the agent that we were *not* in the market for a $3M home, but he was happy to let us poke around. Everyone we encountered in the area was so nice.

LuLu California Bistro
gorgeous mid-century home (not the $3M house for sale, though)
Kaufman Desert House (across the street from the $3M house)

Later, we stopped at Tonga Hut for tiki drinks and pineapple fried rice. We also got a special tour through a secret passage to back rooms decorated in vintage tiki bar decor salvaged from tiki bars that have closed down over the years.

Pineapple fried rice at Tonga Hut

Monday, we bicycled around the neighborhood and then headed to Palm Canyon Drive to check out the vintage shops and art galleries. We had an early lunch of vegetarian nachos and a sangria flight at TacQuila followed by more exploring. Later, we had an early dinner at another Palm Springs institution, El Mirasol, though we chose the newer location in the Los Arboles hotel, which has a lovely outdoor dining area lined with tropical fruit trees such as mangos and loquats. The guacamole salad was fantastic. As was the mango margarita! In the evening, we drove down to the south end of Palm Springs to see Bob Hope’s house, but it’s gated off, so we stopped briefly (while the guard yelled at us) to enjoy the vista.

Vegetarian nachos at TacQuila
Entrance to El Mirasol at Los Arboles Hotel
El Mirasol patio
View from Southridge Drive looking north
Ship of the Desert

On Tuesday, we drove to Indian Canyons to enjoy some more of the natural architecture. We did the easy Andreas Canyon hike (Andreas Loop) that follows a beautiful creek that is lined with gorgeous fan palms and other flora. It’s a really cool contrast to the surrounding desert. Further along the road, there’s a short trail from the Trading Post to the West Fork Falls.

View from Andreas Loop trail in Indian Canyon
Indian Canyon along Andreas Loop
West Fork Falls
Indian Canyon looking north toward Palm Springs

Afterward, we had late lunch at Sherman’s Deli, which has an amazing selection of pastries and cakes. We ended our meal with a slice of San Jacinto cake that was so huge, that we could not finish it. But you know we took it with us. Later, more driving around and admiring of the mid-century “atomic ranches” and homes of the stars. And like every evening, we ended the night relaxing in the pool and hot tub.

Sherman's Deli
Cakes at Sherman's Deli
lovely home in Deepwell Estates neighborhood with San Jacinto mountains to the west
Another home in Deepwell Estates

I scheduled a late flight out so we could enjoy our last day, so we had brunch at Elmer’s after just a bit more bicycling around the neighborhood. Elmer’s was a request of Mr. Eats, so I didn’t look it up; turns out, it’s like a western Shoney’s--ha! But he enjoyed it and it had a great patio with a spectacular view. It was a nice way to end our trip.

View southward from Elmer's patio (includes the end of Ocotillo Lodge)
Elmer's restaurant with Ocotillo Lodge in the background

A few additional notes:

We got a few recommendations to visit some places we didn’t get time to squeeze in. Tropicale got several recommendations as did the High Bar at the top of the Kimpton Hotel. It’s also a “thing” to have a date shake since the Coachella Valley is the date capital. We didn’t know this and opted for a Dole Whip instead. Oops.

We opted for the Dole Whip instead of the date shake. Oops.

We didn’t take a guided tour of celebrity/interesting homes, but we did stop by the visitors center and purchased a map for $5 to guide us. Many of the homes are difficult to see from the street (and guided tours don’t provide special access except during Modernism Week), so I don’t think we missed out.

We rented a car, which was nice to have to get to Joshua Tree as well as Indian Canyons and just for driving around town through various neighborhoods. There’s lots of free parking on Palm Canyon Drive and Belardo Rd so you can park and walk around. Gas is expensive (of course), but otherwise, food and drinks were surprisingly reasonable (cheaper than Nashville, really) and it was easy to get in everywhere we went (April is the end of the season for the winter residents since it heats up during the month).

If you’re interested in partaking in California’s, um, newly-legal pastime (let’s say), the place to visit is California Safe Access, which has been in business since the time that only medicinal use was legal. It’s a great place for people who have lots of questions and are new to all the different products offered. It's like a high-end cosmetics store.

It was a short but relaxing trip with lots of scheduled downtime and I’m already ready to go back. And I wish I had $3M to buy that fab house on Vista Chino Drive! If you want to see (and read about) more homes, check out this piece on Palm Springs architecture. I took a lot of the same, exact photos as the author--even of houses that weren't noted on maps (just really cool).

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It's been exactly a year since my last post. I've still been blogging...ish. Mostly, I've shared my thoughts on Instagram, where I'm pretty active. But recently, I was looking for a recipe and realized I'd never published it. I didn't have a good picture to go with it, so I just never posted. I have little natural light in my house now, so my food pics are even worse than ever. And I feel the pressure to have at least one good photo on a post.

But more about why I want to blog again. I have things to say! I have recipes to share (and save)! I want to get my money's worth out of this website I'm paying for!

And now for a bit more about why I stopped blogging. I didn't just stop blogging here. I also stopped blogging (after almost six years) for the Nashville Scene's Bites blog around this time last year. I hit a wall. I had things to say, but became unable to type out coherent thoughts.

I was exhausted. The restaurant scene in Nashville exploded during that time and I found myself writing the easy posts about new restaurants rather than writing thoughtfully about food. Though I wrote a few things I'm really proud of, including a series on school lunches (here, here, and here) and a piece on carp. I wanted to write for the audience, but I became less and less interested in all the new restaurants and unsure of exactly what readers cared about. Based on web traffic, my posts were still interesting to readers (well, some of my posts), but reader engagement really fell with a new comment system a while back, so I lost a valuable method of feedback. It's a shame that this post about coconut oil no longer includes the 200-ish comments from people who took it way too seriously. Or the comments from those who didn't get the humor in Nashville's most vegetarian un-friendly restaurants.

Also, with all the new restaurants and the attention Nashville was getting nationally, the camaraderie among food writers was turning into something less amicable. Though I was never interested in breaking news, there was competition among others and a tenseness I didn't enjoy. There's also (is or was; I'm not sure because I stopped paying attention) a boys' club in Nashville of writers, bloggers, and chefs that was just so tiresome. I don't care about meat, barbecue, hot chicken, whatever and all the back-slapping and glad-handing that came along with their discussions. Not to mention that they all think making fun of vegans and vegetarians is cute/clever/funny. It's not; it's uncreative and shows an inferiority complex. Cooking meat is easy (I know; I did it for almost ten years and I can still perfectly sear a scallop and braise a pork chop); cooking vegetables and making them taste great is a lot more difficult. Side note: most of the best restaurants in Nashville are led by women. They are generally too damn busy to care if they're being written about.

I also grew tired of dealing with the daily onslaught of emails from PR reps. It was so voluminous that I was missing emails important to my actual life. I wasn't managing that well at all. They're just doing their jobs, but so many of them were not doing them well. I got way too many pitches about meat-heavy restaurants and events. Y'all, it's not hard to learn a little bit about me.

Anyway, I hope I will get back to blogging regularly. Share some of these recipes in my drafts folder even if my picture is unusually terrible. Maybe update you on the handful of things my child will eat other than bean and cheese burritos. Maybe even tell you about some of the new restaurants in Nashville that I've actually visited!