travel

Traverse City’s Harvest

I’ve been craving the Korean beef tacos from Harvest Restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan. If you’re not from Michigan, you might not have heard of a great place called Traverse City. It’s a bay town that offers the best of what is trending across the country, i.e. food trucks, organic cafés with Vegan offerings, etc. and still manages to preserve the best of that “up north” feel that Michigan treasures so much. It was a few years ago now that my sister (the chef) and her family made their way up to Traverse City and visited one of those food trucks, the Roaming Harvest Food Truck to be exact. In the area known locally as “The Little Fleet” a variety of food trucks can be sampled. Other members of her family ventured out towards other good things, but in the end everyone wanted her Korean beef tacos. With those kind of reviews, I had to plan a trip myself. (Where wouldn’t you travel within reason to try good food?) The Roaming Harvest Food Truck is seasonal, like many of its menu items. They support local farms and businesses that supply their ingredients in an effort to provide the best and most sustainable food for their customers. Thankfully, the Harvest Restaurant is open year round, and the Korean beef tacos are always on the menu… along with the sweet potato fries that you can dip in a green cilantro style chimichurri. Yessss!

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If you get the opportunity, I encourage you to check out the whole town. Traverse City has so much to do, from the beach to great shopping downtown, sailing to wine tasting… and the food scene is booming. Of course if possible, make sure you try to hit up the Harvest Roaming Food Truck or Harvest Restaurant. Their seasonal items only last so long, and you’re sure to want to taste them. (And just know that if I am not there eating along side you, I am envious and wish I was.) For more information and the seasonal menu visit roamingharvest.com.

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Ode to Amsterdam

A while back now I had the opportunity to spend a week visiting a friend from college who was spending his summer volunteering at a Christian youth hostel in the red light district of Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was an amazing experience in many ways. For one, a boat ride on the river brings one back hundreds of years to this thriving port town. The narrow rows of houses and architecture are really beautiful. Next, I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden a bike throughout the city, but it was probably one of the most adventurist things I’ve ever done. There are buses, and trolley/trains, and cars and other cyclists, etc. all moving quickly. Yes, there are bike paths -but everything criss-crosses, intersects and overlaps, and you are armed with only a ringing bell on your handlebars. In fact, nothing I say can capture the essence of how CRAZY it is. Insane. Another highlight was the morning we spent ministering to the homeless and strung-out people on the streets. Mind you, this is the red light district, and by morning, I mean around 2-5 AM, and by ministering I mean inviting people to a soup kitchen that would open in a few hours to serve them peanut butter sandwiches and hot soup. If you’ve never done that sort of thing, I highly recommend it- but not alone. Lastly, I would like to share with you the strides the Dutch have made in street food. Sure you have had ketchup with your fries; Perhaps at a fair you’ve doused them with vinegar & salt; If you’ve been to France or maybe a so-themed restaurant you have dipped your frites in a little Dijon style mustard? But in Holland, my friend, they dip those salty spud sticks (are you ready for this?) in mayonnaise! Soooo good! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, because the Dutch know delicious. And for further proof I give you the stroopwafel. Um, wow! Have you tried a stroopwafel? It’s like a thin round waffle sandwich cookie, with a caramel syrup filling. Oh, and when they are warm and fresh they are incredible! But not to worry because if you want to eat them all day long (which you wouldn’t because you are full of restraint, but some people- not to point fingers, at that girl in the mirror…) You can just place the cup-sized version right on the rim of your fresh hot coffee or tea and let them warm through and come to caramel-ly life.

That concludes my “ode” to Amsterdam. However, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my good friends Tara and Molly for buying me a Belgian Cookie Iron so that I can finally have thin enough plates to achieve my stroopwafel making goals! Thank you!

A Tale of Three Dishes Part III

The last of my trilogy in the Tale of Three Dishes of elusive foods from my travels is different from the rest. The other dishes are delicacies I have been unable to replicate. No amount of research and effort has allowed me the pleasure of recreating or enjoying them again. All I have is an increasingly distant memory of the taste and pleasure I received by eating them. This is an unfortunate tale of an edible experience I’ll never know.

Last year we had a family trip planned in the spring to finally see the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the wonders of the world that I’ve never been able to experience first hand, and it was finally time to be able to take in the beauty. The trip was still in the planning stages when Owen was informed that he was required to go to Porto, Portugal during the very same week of our projected vacation. Alas, my canyon experience would have to wait… looks like we’re all going to Portugal!

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As anyone traveling with children knows, it gets increasingly difficult with the more children you have, especially when they are young. I wasn’t willing to spend the money on the first class flight that Owen’s company was sending him on for myself and three children, so I began to research more affordable options. Our arrival time would be similar if I just planned to leave a little earlier, and it was actually more economical to book a hotel room in Frankfort to accommodate a long layover on our flight home. However, I started to get concerned about traveling alone with the kids. What if I had to go to the bathroom and the stroller holding the two babies didn’t fit? I didn’t want to leave Isaiah alone to watch them in an airport. Owen had to work many of the days we were there… The only thing to do was bring “Nanny” Tara. Believe it or not it was still a substantial cost savings over flying with Owen, and the peace of mind was priceless.

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Owen was able to meet us at the airport and we (luggage and all) were able to fit into a large taxi to drive us to our hotel. Gone are the days when we could get away with sleeping in the corporate hotel room, now we have to add on a suite. Fortunately the hotel was modern, beautiful and accommodating! There was plenty to do there, a swimming pool and restaurant; which is comforting to know when planning a trip with kids since you can’t always project what’s going to happen. But more impressively was that there was so much to do within walking distance, because we could always stay-in at home and we were here to see the city of Porto!

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It was also good to know that taxies were relatively inexpensive and could accommodate three children and two adults because shortly before I left for our trip I found out I was pregnant with our fourth child, and didn’t feel like walking! (Although I still did plenty of sight-seeing by foot.) The city was beautiful and had the best of what all European vacations had to offer in my opinion. There were sandy beaches and cafes full of pastries and good coffee; there was rich history and beautiful architecture; and there were plenty of parks and attractions (such as an aquarium and museums) to do with the kids.

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Almost everywhere we went offered a menu in English, which was very appreciated since I don’t speak any Portuguese. It is also one of my joys in life to try new cuisine. Sadly, however, my current condition, being with child, prevented me from being my usual adventurous self (it also prevented me from touring the wineries and enjoying the famous Port wine). Overall I was having quite a bit of food aversion so I tried to stick with dishes I knew. When I saw “Francesinha” on the menu of almost every Portuguese restaurant I was truly curious and my not-pregnant self would have tried it in a heartbeat. But it translated on all of the menus as “special sauce,” which was so (almost comically) non-discript that I couldn’t force my queasy stomach to do it. I did inquire further about the sauce on more than one occasion which was also funny because apparently many of the “special sauces” are a house secret, which only fueled the mystery. And when finally one of the descriptive words included liquor, well that was it. I didn’t think my sensitivity could handle it. So alas, I have regretted the not trying of the special sauce ever since, and unfortunately the Francesinha eludes me, and in truth I may never know what I have missed.

A Tale of Three Dishes Part II

Isaiah and I were again tagging along on one of Owen’s business trips. This time he was visiting one of his company’s plants in the charming town of Bretten, Germany. Many of the his colleagues lived in or near town and coming here was a little like a business reunion. Isaiah and I were accustomed to camping out in our hotel room, frequenting nearby parks and strolling through town. Part of the routine often included Owen participating in business dinners with visiting customers, so we were comfortable fending for ourselves. At times reservations had been made before our trip began and we knew which nights Owen would be away, but lining up our evening wasn’t always easy, as many times there was no set plan of “when and where.” Since I didn’t have an international cell phone, the only way Owen could get in touch with me was to meet back at our hotel or call the room, but if Isaiah and I were out exploring we needed to be flexible with our dinner plans.

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Little park outside of the hotel

One afternoon the baby and I returned to the room for his nap. By the time he woke up I knew Owen would be coming back soon, so I didn’t want to head back out. To pass the time I took out the crayons and paper I had packed. There was a perfect little desk in the corner for coloring shapes and practicing our colors. Isaiah was sitting in a chair and completely content, so I thought it would be a good time to run to the restroom. I left the door open so I could hear him and dart out if he started to move, besides I just going to be a minute. Right as I was walking out, I saw him standing on the chair and losing his balance. I couldn’t get there fast enough and he came crashing down, catching the side of his face on the corner of the desk.

My heart sank as I rushed to comfort him and inspect his injury. All of the sudden I felt home sick and helpless. I had no idea where the nearest medical facility was located, and no car to get me there anyway. Thankfully there was no bleeding, and I was able to get a wash cloth of cold water to sooth his wound and help with the swelling. It didn’t take long to see he was going to have a black eye. By the time Owen called to say we had been invited to his co-worker’s home for the evening, I had calmed down a little. After explaining to him what had happened and expressing my concerns about being good company, Owen and his friend convinced me that going there was the best option since his home had a medicine cabinet and some basic supplies, not to mention he was an asset as a translator if need be.

Picture taken a few days later, sob.

Picture taken a few days later, sob.

When Owen picked us up from the hotel, Isaiah and I were doing better. Owen was quick to put my mind at ease, professing (as I think many dads do) “it’s not that bad.” We arrived at Martin’s home and were greeted by his welcoming family. It was their custom to eat a large lunch and not very much for dinner, but they did put out some homemade bread, cider, and jams, a slaw like salad made from their very own garden vegetables and a few kiwis. The night was very comforting after the upset we had in our hotel room. Martin’s wife practiced her English with me while his daughter played the piano for us and his son brought out a box of building blocks for Isaiah.

His wife and some of the homemade goodies.

His wife and some of the homemade goodies.

Isaiah taking a turn at the piano.

Isaiah taking a turn at the piano.

The night had been just what I needed and the next day I was again feeling relaxed about our stay (as opposed to trying to book the first flight home). I had even decided I would take Isaiah out for the afternoon. Owen had told me about a restaurant I should try at the square around the corner from our hotel. This was my favorite part of town. The brick paved thoroughfare was really for pedestrians only (although occasionally there would be a random car parked in front of a shop). The path was lined with quaint little stores, one sold chocolates, another sold kitchen wares, a couple sold clothing, etc. Owen had explained that a particular restaurant, the second one with outdoor seating on the north side of the road, had a pizza type dish that he thought was pretty good. Trusting his recommendation, I made it our quest of the day.

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What I am about to tell you next is as serious as I can be. I had never tasted anything like this before. One word, flammkuchen. It wasn’t really like a pizza or flat bread I’d eaten. It was amazing! It had a thin crispy crust, there was some sort of beautiful white sauce, the cheese was mild and flavorful, the onions were soft but firm and sweet, and the bacon, oh the bacon; it was perfectly salty, crispy and chewy all at the same time. Together the combination was out of this world. It’s not to say that I had tasted flammkuchen and had a standard to measure it by, but I’m pretty sure I hit the jackpot! Life changing. Honestly it’s worth booking a vacation over.

I posted this picture only because there are remnants of the flammkuchen on the table.

I posted this picture only because there are remnants of the flammkuchen on the table.

A Tale of Three Dishes Part I

Owen was pretty low on the corporate ladder back then. Isaiah, almost a year old, and I were tagging along on his business trip to the Czech Republic. For the first portion of our stay we were just going to make due with whatever arrangements the company had made for Owen in the town of Jihlava. During the second part of the trip we had extended the stay on our own dime to tour Prague. Being the dutiful man that he is, Owen had made this known to his company. After all it really changed nothing as I was willing to do all of the child care and touring my heart desired while he was fulfilling his commitments. Somewhere along the way however, word got out that Owen was bringing his family, and to accommodate our situation we were moved into an executive suite normally reserved as an apartment for executives with long term stays. The room was like a studio with a kitchenette, a large bed and an extremely large bathroom with a spacious walk-in shower unlike any European bath I had seen before. Thoughtfully management had even furnished the room with a crib for our son.

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Executive Suite

The first night of our stay was a difficult adjustment for the baby. He was still on our time schedule, which was about a six hour difference. Owen has a practice of trying to get on the schedule of where he is traveling right away, so he went to bed in the evening to be able to get up early in the morning to head off to the plant. To Isaiah it felt like lunch time, and he wasn’t sleepy at all. Since he and I could make our own schedule, I set up a play area away from the bed and tried to keep him as quiet as possible. When we had arrived the very nice woman behind the desk informed us that a complementary breakfast would be offered between the hours of like 6-9 am. Since the baby and I had finally gone to sleep around 2 am Czech time I had decided to sleep through breakfast, besides European cafes with fun pastries are one of my favorite things about Europe- so whenever we woke up I was confident we would be able to find something to eat.

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Some time around 10 o’clock, the baby and I were still asleep when there was a knock on the door. I knew it wasn’t Owen, he had left a few hours ago, and he had a key. I got up and asked who was there. I recognized the voice of the nice woman who had checked us in the day before and opened the door. Much to my surprise she had three large trays full of food! She had noticed that we missed breakfast and wanted to make sure we had something to eat. There was a tray of sliced meats and cheeses, a tray of breads and pastries, and a tray of fresh fruit and two different yogurts. She had also brought orange juice, water and coffee. I felt like a queen! I didn’t have to wake the baby or go anywhere! Plus Isaiah had options when he did wake since he could easily eat a banana and yogurt.

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A view from town square in Jilhava, Czech Republic

It was a lovely start to the day to say the least. And I actually felt guilty that I couldn’t eat it all! (And I made it a point not to miss breakfast again). After we got dressed, we did a little exploration of the city. There were cute little boutiques hidden behind painted doors. There was hustling and bustling down narrow streets full of working people and little cars. Because the area we were in was very business like and everything looked the same (and because I instinctively have no sense of direction), I didn’t want to stray too far because we had gotten a late start and I knew Owen would be back from work soon. Not too long after we returned to the room and I had put Isaiah down for a nap, Owen walked through the door and informed me of where we were going to dinner.

Apparently the place we were staying also had a restaurant downstairs. I hadn’t even been able to see or hear it from the lobby, but all we had to do after we went down the three flights of stairs from the floor of our room, was take a different turn which landed us right in a unique type of dining hall. The walls were made of stones and the tables and chairs were dark wood. There was a fire burning in a fireplace that seemed to be in the middle of the room and a cooking fire in the corner. You could see pots hanging from an area that must have lead to the kitchen and the whole place was packed full of locals and business men and women that already knew about this hidden treasure. To say it was charming would be an understatement and I was completely delighted. The weather outside was chilly, somewhere between fall and winter, inside was warm and picturesque.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

We were seated at a long table filled with executives; sellers and buyers. I was a part of the only family there and they had insisted that we come. Everyone greeted us warmly and commented on Owen as an appreciated employee and respected colleague. I felt their sincerity and I was proud of him. I think it was a nice change for everyone to have something a little more personal rather than all business as usual. After spending all day together at a plant resolving issues and talking numbers, I’m sure it was a nice diversion.

The restaurant was accustomed to international patrons and equipped with menus in English. As a starter I selected a soup I had never seen before or again. It was simply called Garlic Soup, and considering the weather outside, the warmth inside and my love of garlic it just seemed right. When they brought it to the table I didn’t really know what to expect. It was broth-y and mostly clear. It had a few little drops of oil that had collected at the top. I don’t remember seeing any pieces of garlic per say, only a couple of thinly sliced scallion rings. It was light and fulfilling at the same time. It was warm, satisfying and delicious. After that I really can’t recall any more of the soup or anything else I ate that evening, but I do know that I ordered it two more times before we left the city. I have researched recipes for Garlic Soup since, some were creamy and some were chunky; none were ever close to what I had at that quaint restaurant on the bottom floor of the of the executive apartments where I was treated like a queen.

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Featured image taken in Prague, Czech Republic