to peonies, are my favorite flower in the garden. When we first bought our
lakehouse in 2014, it was in the dead of winter, and a very cold, snowy winter
at that. When warm weather rolled around, I was delighted to see an abundance
of both peonies and hydrangeas burst forth with blooms. So delighted in fact, that
I cut bouquet after bouquet to enjoy them inside.
Not having a particularly green thumb, I don’t know if this is what caused them to produce fewer and fewer blooms each year. The peonies seemed to bounce back this year, but only one of our four hydrangea plants produced any blooms – and it was a meager two blooms at that.
I’ve asked around and done some reading, and have come to the conclusion that I should be pruning hydrangeas. I’ve read differing theories on when to prune though. I read one article here that says I should prune back the dead wood in July and no later. So, that’s what I just did this morning. Then I came across another article that says you should cut back the dead wood in early spring and no later. If that’s what I should have done, I’m probably screwed. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that next year I’ll be rewarded with at least a few of those lush, gorgeous blooms we’ve had in previous years.
While on vacation at our lakehouse this week, I visited the farmers market in Grand Haven and found a vendor selling fresh basil by the pound. It was surprising to see because it’s a little early in the summer for basil, so I was inspired to buy some to make my favorite food in the world: pasta with homemade pesto sauce.
I first tried pesto when I was a senior at MSU, at a restaurant that had just opened called Pistachios. I don’t even know what made me order it in the first place – I was a fairly picky eater and had grown up in a small, rural town where such exotic foods did not exist. Plus it was GREEN – and up to that point in my sheltered life I had only ever had red sauce on pasta. But something made me decide to give it a try, and I’ve been addicted ever since.
I can’t remember where I found my first recipe for pesto, but I’ll never forget the one from the Silver Palate cookbook. For one thing it called for walnuts which struck me as strange, because I always thought pine nuts were a vital component of pesto. But what I remember most was the text that accompanied it: “But summer is too long, basil too plentiful and pesto too good to limit oneself to a single version.” I was flabbergasted. Summer is too long??? Said no one ever! And the idea of taking an absolutely perfect recipe and substituting the stellar ingredients with such ridiculous items as arugula? Not for this girl!
Today, of course, there are a million versions of pesto that call for all sorts of nontraditional ingredients. But for me, I’ve always stuck with the same mainstays: Fresh basil, a hard Italian cheese (more on that in a moment), good-quality olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Over the years, however, I have perfected that original recipe, or I should say tweaked it to align more with my taste buds.
On the cheese matter: For
years I made pesto with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. But at a cooking
seminar I attended a few years ago, it was mentioned that Pecorino Romano is
superior for pesto sauce because of its saltiness. I gave it a try and I loved
it, so I’ve stuck with that ever since.
I also always felt that the original recipe called for way too much olive oil – a full cup – so I’ve cut way back on that. It really doesn’t affect the taste, and obviously it makes for a much less oily sauce. I’ll go through the other tiny tweaks I make in the recipe below.
As far as the variety of pasta goes, I’ve always loved pesto with long, thin noodles such as thin spaghetti, angel hair or thin linguine. And I still wouldn’t turn it down if it were offered to me! But recently I tried pesto with gemelli and that’s been my preferred variety ever since. The tight little coils are ideal for the sauce to cling to and coat. Normally I like whole wheat pasta because it has a bit of nuttiness and also because it’s a bit healthier than white. But who are we kidding? Pesto is not a health food. So if you really want to go all out, by all means, use white pasta.
Both Pecorino and gemelli can be a little hard to find, at least in the Lansing area. We recently found whole wheat gemelli in a shop near Eastern Market in Detroit. I usually pick up Pecorino at our local Italian market, and Whole Foods also carries it. I’m sure it would be much easier to find both of these ingredients at groceries in cities larger than Lansing though.
Here’s the most important component of pesto sauce: the basil. It is the star, the headliner, the CEO of pesto. According to the Silver Palate, ideally your basil should come from Genoa in Northern Italy, “bathed by salty sea air as it grows.” I’m guessing that for most of us, that would be fairly unrealistic. But the next best thing is basil that’s grown in your own garden or yard. I usually plant at least 10 to 15 basil plants and am able to get a good five or six batches from those. Another good option is to buy basil from a grower at a farmers market. If you’re left with only the basil that comes in packages in the produce section of your grocery store, I’d say take a hard pass and wait until next summer. After all, part of what makes homemade pesto sauce so special is because summer is so SHORT and basil season is so fleeting. Unless, of course, you live in Northern Italy. Facing the sea.
Homemade pesto sauce with pasta:
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves, stems removed
½ cup good-quality olive oil
2-4 cloves minced garlic, sautéed in olive oil and removed from the pan as soon as it becomes fragrant (IMPORTANT: if it burns, toss it out, wipe out the pan, and start again)
½ – ¾ cup freshly coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (can substitute with Parmesan, or use a mix of both), plus extra for passing
¼ C pine nuts, lightly toasted, plus extra for topping
A pinch of crushed red pepper (optional but it gives the sauce a little kick)
Salt (pink sea salt is ideal) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A scant teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest, plus a quick squeeze of juice (this is also optional but I feel it adds a nice zip)
1 pound of your favorite variety pasta
About a ½ cup of pasta water, taken from the pot of boiling pasta right before you drain it
Place the basil, garlic and
pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Leave the motor running
and slowly pour in the olive oil. Turn the motor off and add the cheese and lemon
zest and process briefly. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and plenty of kosher salt. Bring to boiling and add the pasta, cooking according to package instructions BUT remember to remove some of the water before draining! This helps thin the sauce a bit more (since we’ve cut back on the olive oil) and also helps bind the sauce to the pasta.
While the pasta is draining,
pour a little of the reserved pasta water into the processor and give it
another spin. If it still seems a bit thick, add a little more. Mix all the
sauce into the cooked pasta and toss well to coat evenly. Divide it up among
the plates and pass the reserved pine nuts and cheese. Die and go to heaven.
Makes a very generous four servings as a main dish, or six to eight if you’re serving it as a side.
Hi friends! Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted… a year and a half, to be exact. I could certainly blame it on laziness or a busy life, but I really think part of it is that I just haven’t felt like I’ve had fresh content that was worth sharing. I was starting to feel a bit constrained by the theme of my blog, which focused on lake living and goings-on at our lakehouse. While I love our life there, I felt like I was writing the same posts over and over again: here’s where we went on our boat, or here’s another view of the bayou, etc. Of course that IS a lot of how we spend our time at the lakehouse, but it felt a bit redundant and unnecessary to share on a blog. Plus there’s been so much more happening in life that didn’t really fit the lakehouse theme, but was still significant and meaningful.
For instance, a fairly major event that happened just recently was that we bought a home in Punta Gorda Isles, Florida. A home in the Sunshine State has been a distant life goal for several years – we knew that once we became empty nesters, we would want to have just one house in Michigan and one in a warmer climate. I thought we were still a few years away from accomplishing this, but all of a sudden the purchase of a Florida home happened really fast. Like, within a month’s time this past winter.
Soooo, we’ve been beyond excited and very focused on making this house our own. And while we’ll still spend summers (limited to weekends for the time being) in Spring Lake, we’re definitely dedicating plenty of time, energy and resources to the Florida house.
The name of the house when we purchased it was “Dolphin Landing,” and you could certainly see why: there are dolphins everywhere. The previous owners were NUTS about dolphins. I’m talking dolphins etched into the front windows, dolphin tiles at the bottom of the pool, dolphin-embroidered bath towels, a “dolphins crossing sign,” dolphin toilet flusher, etc. You might have noticed the dolphin fountain gracing the pool in the top photo. And while we’re definitely planning on dialing back on the dolphin décor, we have decided to stick with the name, because what’s not to like about dolphins? In fact the weekend we closed on the house we went out for a boat ride, and some curious dolphins followed along for a while. It seemed like an omen (in a good way).
So while I’ll still keep sharing new and different activities around lake life, my renamed and redesigned blog will allow me to share a much wider range of lifestyle content, including fashion, travel, recipes, restaurant discoveries, beauty, and more (for instance, views of our canal! 😉). Stay tuned for more to come!
Wow, this summer went by so fast! I had so many blog posts written in my head that I planned to publish over the course of the summer, and then before I knew it, it was October. To be fair August didn’t really feel like summer. But thanks to Hurricane Maria we had a crazy spell of 90-degree days in September, which inspired me to revisit my half-written posts.
We didn’t end up taking the boat on a week-long, halfway around the mitten trip as we’d hoped last year. It turns out there’s a bit more to a multi-night boat trip than just deciding to take five days off from work and heading out. For one thing, weather plays a major role (I know – news flash!!). In fact, at least in Michigan, I think that realistically it would take two full weeks or more to pull off an eight- or nine-night trip. But we did get some good overnights and one multi-night trip in, and so I’m sharing a little recap of our 2017 boating adventures.
One plan we made last year that did stick was bringing our bikes on our overnights. It really makes a remarkable difference in the ability to truly explore every port – and also allows us to get a bit more exercise than we’d get from just walking.
We kicked off the Summer 2017 Overnight season in Saugatuck, a longtime favorite getaway town for us. We have done several boat overnights in this charming community, but this year was the first time we stayed in nearby Douglas AND took the dinghy across the lake to the town of Saugatuck. In fact, this trip was when we really discovered the joy of dinghy ownership. In 2015 when we first bought the boat, there was so much to learn it was too overwhelming to try to figure out the dinghy (not to mention we were also planning a wedding so probably a tad distracted), but last year we gradually started taking it out on little jaunts on Spring Lake. Since then we’ve realized that the dinghy brings a whole new level of freedom to our excursions.
Favorite spots: Coral Gables for patio dining, live Jimmy Buffet-esque music and some serious boat watching; the Butler for more outdoor dining and live music; Wally’s for indoor/outdoor seating, live music and dancing; and Phil’s for a beer and good bar food any time of day or night – plus our favorite bar pastime, dirty-word Hangman.
Next up was Muskegon. This lakefront Western Michigan town is on the rise! We stayed there twice this summer and made wonderful little discoveries both times. One of the happiest moments for me was finding out that my favorite wine bar, Smash, had been reopened. That place is so cool and I was sad when it closed last year. But it’s now under new ownership, and I really hope it can keep going. 18th Amendment, a new distillery, was another awesome spot we stumbled onto. We enjoyed their creatively named cocktails and the pizza was delish. The Tipsy Toad has a fun rooftop bar area that we usually try to visit for one quick drink.
Some non alcohol-focused highlights include the Muskegon Farmers Market – we managed to squeeze in two stops there, both with bountiful results. Another must-visit place is The Cheese Lady, which, in addition to having an incredible cheese selection, offers gourmet snacks, wine, olive oils, gifts, and more.
On our second trip to Muskegon we stayed at the Great Lakes Marina which is a bit further from downtown, but with our bikes, it was a super easy ride into town. We discovered the bike trail, which made the trek to and from town a pleasure and allowed us to avoid much of the downtown traffic. We also found that hanging out in the Lakeside neighborhood near the marina was a fun, easy way to stay local. There are several bars in stumbling distance, and just outside the marina is a little hotdog joint, Max N Marley’s Doghouse. They have a million different hotdog options including a breakfast dog, a taco dog, a gyro dog and many more. On a whim we decided to get our lunch to go and enjoy it on the bow of the boat with a glass of wine. While I’m sure their hotdogs are always good, somehow they were magical when eaten on the bow of the boat.
Later we took the dinghy across the lake to Dockers, a longtime favorite spot for us. We’ve gone there by boat several times but it was a novelty to take the dinghy. Known for their tiki bar and over-the-top Bloody Marys, this boaters paradise is only open for the summer season so it’s always packed.
We spent both our first and second anniversaries at the Eldean Marina in Holland, so I’m thinking we can call it our anniversary tradition.
We love Holland and we love the marina. The only drawback is that it’s quite a hike outside of town (about five miles) so it’s not super convenient to go back and forth. Fortunately Uber is now available in Holland, plus this year we took our bikes so we were a bit more mobile.
Favorite spots: The Holland Farmers Market is fabulous!! Jam-packed with hyper-local produce plus fun and funky crafts and homemade food products. The downtown is thriving, with lots of locally-owned boutiques and gift shops as well as a few retail chain stores (think White House Black Market, Chico’s, etc.). Some eateries we enjoy are the 8th Street Grille for the amazing soup bar; Boatwerks with waterfront seating on Lake Macatawa; New Holland Brewing Co. for fantastic local beer; and Curragh Irish Pub for last call.
The advantage of riding our bikes to and from Holland was that we were able to stop and ogle the seriously gorgeous real estate along S. Shore Drive. Here are just a few of the drool-worthy homes and gardens we passed.
One of our favorite ports, Whitehall/Montague is less touristy and has a quirky, small-town vibe. It’s quite hilly and feels like you’re up north, plus the establishments have a definite local friendliness. The farmers market was more like a community meeting spot than a place for farmers to sell their wares, and the bookstore/coffee shop/wine bar seemed to be the kickoff-to-Saturday night spot for the locals. We were especially adventurous (well, my husband was, and I was dragged along), and we rode our bikes six miles outside of Montague to the Old Channel Inn, which is charming and has a decided Northern Michigan feel.
Marina lowdown: We’ve had fantastic experiences at the White Lake municipal marina right on White Lake. The staff is super helpful and it’s a convenient walk to both Whitehall and Montague. We even got to “witness” a wedding while docked there on our last trip (probably more enjoyable for this hopeless romantic than for my husband).
The closer we get to the 2017 boating season, the more nostalgic/reminiscent we get about previous, happy experiences aboard the Just Like Heaven. Our favorite so far was the three-night trip we took last September.
We decided to do this outing somewhat at the last minute, much the way many boat trips end up happening. We had pondered a variety of different late summer/early fall vacations, then decided that one last boat excursion seemed doable. The tentative plan was to spend the first night in Pentwater, head up to Frankfort for the second night, and then make our way back south and stay in Ludington for a final night before heading home.
We met right after work at the marina, where I left my car, and made our way to Pentwater. It’s ridiculous that as a lifelong Michigander, I’ve never been to this popular Lake Michigan town before, but this was in fact my first visit.
Docking was a bit hairy, especially because it was late in the season and there were no other boats in the marina. Luckily the man who owned the bookstore across the street saw us and dashed over to help. We chatted and he told us he and his wife were Great Loopers, that elite group of boaters who complete the loop that consists of the waterways of the eastern part of the U.S. (Turned out, we were to meet two more sets of Great Loopers during this trip. To learn more about this interesting, somewhat daunting, adventure, visit here.)
The marina was right in the center of downtown Pentwater and once we were safely tied off, we explored town a bit and enjoyed dinner and drinks in the local establishments, including a “tiki bar” that seemed somewhat out of place in Northern Michigan but was nonetheless quite charming.
The next day I took a local yoga class and we spent a little more time checking out the quaint downtown. We were especially intrigued by a super funky, local antique shop that specialized in nautical antiques. We purchased a few vintage buoys that we thought we might use to decorate our boathouse. We also discovered a gift shop that had lots of paraphernalia for wine lovers, including a wine cup complete with a lid and straw (okay, it’s basically a sippy cup) that looked ideal for rough boating days.
Once we got organized, we headed out to the next port, Frankfort. The trip was fairly uneventful, but it was a tad choppy and I was happy I had my new wine cup.
We had a reservation for a slip at a local marina, Jacobson, that promised lobster bisque in its little market and in general sounded quite lovely. The owner was on hand to help us dock (with far less anxiety than the Pentwater docking). This marina, too, was right in the heart of town and we ventured in to get the lay of the land.
We learned that Zumba was offered at a local VFW hall the next morning, and also discovered that we needed beer.
After a bit of strolling, we enjoyed a lovely meal at The Fusion, a local Asian/sushi restaurant that came highly recommended by one of my colleagues. My husband ordered the massaman curry and proclaimed it to be one of the best he’d ever had.
The next morning, we intended to head down to Ludington after I took my Zumba class and we got organized. However, the wind was gusting and after doing a bit of research (mainly by asking other boaters in the marina), my husband decided we were staying put for the day. To be honest, I was thrilled. I loved Frankfort, absolutely LOVED the marina, and was excited about having a day to hang and explore the town.
We hopped on our bikes (first time we’d actually brought them along on an overnight, but something we will be sure to do for all multi-night trips in the future) and rode out to Elberta Beach, where we confirmed our decision to stay put. The waves were dramatic to look at… but too dramatic to be boating on. We stopped for a beer at a local joint and made our way back to the marina.
The Jacobson Marina in Frankfort is, in my opinion, the nicest we’ve ever stayed in. The bathrooms/shower areas are practically spa-like, with air conditioning, roomy showers, clean, spacious counters, makeup mirrors and excellent lighting. Unlike most other marina bathrooms, this one made getting ready for a night on the town almost an event in itself.
Ahhh, the boating life. Rosé on the bow makes all stress melt away.
That night we enjoyed a few stops at the local bars and ended up eating dinner at the Hotel Frankfort, where we had the world’s largest piece of whitefish. We ended the evening by taking a stroll along the boardwalk and catching a glimpse of the full moon before getting a soothing night’s sleep on the boat.
The next morning we headed out early. Rich wanted to avoid the rough waters that were predicted that day, and while the first part of the trip wasn’t too bad, we still experienced some jaw-breaking, bone-jarring waves. The shining sun and blue skies were deceptive – the wind roared and we crashed our way for most of the trip home.
Despite the brutal return trip, we enjoyed our adventure so much we decided then and there that our next excursion was going to be an eight-day, halfway around the mitten trip that hits all our favorite spots along the way. The trip will definitely include stops in both Pentwater and Frankfort. We will bring our bikes, and the dog may even get to come along. Stay tuned!
Last summer my daughter asked me to try to replicate California Pizza Kitchen’s Quinoa-Arugula Salad. After a few attempts, I think I’ve got it down. It’s a fantastic salad that’s bursting with flavors but not heavy at all. It makes for an easy, delicious weeknight meal and, if you have leftovers, it’s great for lunch the next day. Even my husband and son, who would normally prefer heartier fare, enjoy this dish.
On the CPK menu, chicken, salmon, or shrimp are optional add-ons. I’ve made this with shrimp once or twice, but salmon really is the best. What’s nice about this recipe is that nothing really needs to be finished at the exact same time so you can sort of make it at your leisure. I usually get the salmon on the grill, then get the quinoa going. While that’s simmering, I’ll roast the asparagus. I do like to take the extra step of toasting the pine nuts, but I do that last so I can watch them and make sure they don’t burn.
Everything can finish in its own time, and then sit at room temperature for a little while until you chop the veggies and make the dressing. And if you buy the packaged arugula and the pre-crumbled feta, there really isn’t a ton of chopping to do.
Serve with a chilled, crisp Sauvignon Blanc and enjoy!
1-1 ½ lb. salmon
1 lemon, cut in half
Tony Cachere Creole seasoning, to taste
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. asparagus, rinsed, dried and trimmed
1 container baby arugula
½ small red onion, chopped
About 6-8 sun dried tomatoes, diced
¼ C pine nuts, toasted
½ C crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Champagne vinaigrette (recipe below, or use your favorite bottled version)
Season salmon with juice of half of the lemon and Tony’s to taste. Grill to medium-rare or medium doneness (depending on your preference) and set aside.
While the salmon is cooking, add a dash of olive oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add quinoa and toast for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering until broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
At the same time, preheat oven to 370 degrees. Place asparagus on baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast asparagus in preheated oven, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.
To toast the pine nuts, place a small skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and stir frequently until lightly toasted. Remove from heat.
To serve, divide the arugula evenly among four plates and top with quinoa, asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, onions, pine nuts and feta cheese. Serve salmon on the side and drizzle all with vinaigrette!
I based the recipe for the dressing on this recipe on Epicurious.com. I tweaked it by omitting the honey and the hot sauce just out of personal preference, but you could certainly leave those in.
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼- 1/3 cup champagne vinegar (can use white wine vinegar instead)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
Whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies.
Recently two of my favorite things came together in a most unexpected and delightful way. My absolute favorite magazine – Coastal Living – announced that my favorite town in Michigan – Grand Haven – had been named the 2017 Happiest Seaside Town in America!
Grand Haven beat out nine other cities across the country and was the only town on the list that isn’t actually anywhere near an ocean. Coastal Living ranks each town using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which includes percentage of sunny days, healthiness of beaches, walkability and more.
When the contest was announced back in September, I shared the link on Facebook and must have voted a thousand times. Although not technically a seaside town, Grand Haven rests on beautiful Lake Michigan, which looks like it could be the ocean (minus the salt and sharks). And Grand Haven has plenty of “coastal vibe,” one of the traits Coastal Living looks for when ranking. Plus the community has fun activities all year long, great restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating, some awesome fireworks displays, and of course we can’t leave out the one-and-only musical fountain.
You’re probably wondering how these two things all came together in my little world. On Friday, January 27, Grand Haven was announced as the winner of the Coastal Living contest, which was of course very exciting and wonderful. But it just so happened that Rich and I were spending that weekend at the lakehouse because we wanted to check out some of Grand Haven’s Winterfest activities. However, it was bitterly cold that Saturday morning, and there were WAY more people going to the event than we expected, so we opted instead to spend some time shopping in downtown Grand Haven.
While we were in one of the local shops, we overheard a group of women telling the sales clerk they were from Coastal Living magazine and were in town to spread the news about the win. I immediately beelined over and butted into joined the conversation.
Well, they were as friendly and enthusiastic as I could have hoped, and we had a lovely chat. Rich and I were about to leave and then I decided I would be remiss if I didn’t ask for a picture. Naturally, they were totally game and we all grabbed Stormy Kromer hats from a display and gathered around for a photo.
I wish I’d thought to give one of them my business card. But I did meet the director of the Grand Haven Visitors Bureau, and now we’re friends on Facebook. Coastal Living is returning to Grand Haven in late July to participate in Coast Guard Festival and I’m already fantasizing about having them join us for a ride on the Just Like Heaven and then all of us becoming lifelong friends. ❤
To read the Coastal Living story, visit here. And be sure to look for the feature story on Grand Haven in the May 2017 issue of Coastal Living.