Vineyard camping!

Day 34

LOCATION:  Just north of Traverse City, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Brengman Winery, a Harvest Host site.  We are parked away from their tasting room, nestled among the vineyards on a bluff.  Incredible!  Good wines and friendly staff.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Cool –> Cold.  Mostly sunny.  High 50
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  15 minutes!

It was a cool morning, so with only such a short drive to make today to a place without electricity, we asked for a late check-out at Holiday RV Park.   We ran the heaters, cleaned up, and packed up leisurely.  This has been a great, relaxing stay.  This is part of our “test” to see how we do staying in places longer than 2-5 days, which has been our norm.  So far, so good.

I belong to a Facebook group called Gourmet Camping. Today, I was notified that my asparagus/polenta recipe and photo is their cover photo for the week. I am proud!

We arrived at this vineyard and got settled in.  There is one other Harvest Host camper here – a single woman traveling in a Class B van.  We invited her over to chat, and then walked down to the tasting room for some wine.  It is a beautiful setting.

The tasting room had a fire going and was very comfortable.  We stayed at the bar, chatting with the servers. 

We always support the Harvest Host sites by buying something.  In addidtion to the wine-tasting, we had planned to buy a pizza for dinner.  However, they were out of dough, so we bought a bottle of wine and went with Plan B for dinner….

DINNER:  Chili con carne.  I opened a can of chile and added some frozen grilled hamburger.  Crushed  tortilla chips and a little cheese were the toppings.   Hit the spot on this chilly evening! 

Even without electricity, we can watch TV using our inverter.  (I don’t understand this, but it works).  So we caught some good PBS shows and cuddled up with blankets. 

Squeezing in a few more wineries

Day 33

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Holiday RV Park
WEATHER:  A bit chilly, but nice.  High 57

After eating our delicious Cornish pastie for breakfast, I took a brisk walk all around the RV park  to burn off some of those calories!   For fun, I counted the number of Airstreams – 20, including three 5th wheels.  I had never seen Airtream 5th-wheelers before, so looked it up… Only a few were made –  around 1990.

Then, off again to explore this side of the Leelenau Peninsula.  First up was Rove Winery, perched high on a bluff.  It is still really early in the season, but the vineyards are greening up.   With our Traverse City Uncorked ticket, our tasting was half-priced.

There was a bachelorette party in full swing….

We returned to one of our favorite breweries – Farm Club – for lunch.  They were having an outdoor market selling baby plants from their greenhouse.  The  food there is so fantastic. The last time we were here we shared their panzanella (warm bread salad).  Today we had their cacio e peppe dish (cheese and pepper) pasta.  Out of this world!

One more winery for the day. This was Shady Lane.  Since it was a bit chilly, they brought out their firepits (after putting them away when they thought cool weather was over).  With our ticket, our wine was only $5.  It was very pleasant around the fire.

DINNER:  Back at the RV park, George got a roaring fire going.  By this time, temps were down in the 40s.  We bundled up and enjoyed the fire.  He roasted some rotisserie chicken pieces, and charred some bell peppers (for future use).  I made a loaded baked potato – with peppers, onions, and cheese which we wrapped in aluminum foil, threw on the fire, and baked as a side dish.  All very tasty!  Our last fire here. 

Checking off Traverse City’s “must-dos”

Day 32

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City
CAMPGROUND:  Holiday RV Park
WEATHER:  Sunny and warm in the AM – high 78; clouds, rain, and cool in the PM

I won’t bore you with the details, but defrosted the freezer early this AM.  Job done!

Off with the jackets this AM, as a fierce front from the South came in.  I took a brisk walk around the RV park and got hot! 

Today’s plan was to visit 3 iconic “institutions” of Traverse City.  We picked up our regular bus route at the nearby grocery store Park&Ride…

1)  Jennie’s Pasties.  We had read about this, a “must” for visitors and locals.  It is quite cute, decorated like a British tea house.  We bought a pastie for breakfast tomorrow.

2)  Slabtown Burgers.  A lot of people had recommended this little cafe for its outstanding burgers and fries.  It is in an old house in a cute neighborhood.  It is so popular that there is always a line of customers waiting for their burgers.  We ordered their pepper burger and fries to share.  They call out your name and you pick up  your order in a paper bag.  Very efficient and really good. 

3)  Feeling a little guilty for eating so much heavy food, we walked to our next destination.  I’ve mentioned before that the Michigan state mental “institution” here has been converted to lovely shops, restaurants, coffee shops, upscale condos, breweries, and wineries.  We stopped a cidery/winery called Left Food Charley whose building had once been the institution’s maintenance shop. 

By the time we returned to Joy, the predicted storms rolled in.  We streamed this season’s last episode of “Call The Midwife” and enjoyed it with some popcorn.  A nice way to spend a rainy afternoon!

DINNER:  We started with a lettuce salad with a cold couscous topping.  When we had couscous the other night, I added some spices and salad dressing to the leftovers for this salad topping.  Good!  The main course was a leftover pork chop.  The other night, I had made a recipe with polenta (grits), peas, and asparagus.  I thinned the leftovers down with some wine and made it into a creamy asparagus sauce for the pork.  I topped it with some nice Parmesan.  Quite nice! 

More Un-corked Wine Tasting!

Day 31

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Holiday RV Park
WEATHER:  Cool in the AM, warming to 62 in PM.  Mostly sunny

Today was wine-tasting on the Old Mission Peninsula.  This peninsula as well as the Leelanau Peninsula are famous for their wineries, as apparently the grapes really like the weather and lake breezes.  The landscape is full of cherry trees and vineyards.

We stopped at this chateau first.  The tasting room balcony overlooks the vineyards and lakes below – on both sides.

With the “Traverse City Un-corked” pass, we got discounts at each winery we visited.  At this first one, our tasting or glass of wine was 10% off.

By this time, we were famished and stopped at the 2nd winery for lunch.  With our pass, we saved $5 on a delicious  charcuterie board.

The third winery did not look like much from the outside, but once you stepped inside the views of the lake were amazing.  This was the best deal – with our pass, we each got a free glass of sparkling along with the glass!

On our way home, we stopped at the Traverse City Visitors Center and redeemed our prizes for participating in the Uncorked event – We each got a t-shirt.  Yay!

DINNER:  A friend of ours in Retama Village is a big fisherman.  He gave me this recipe called Walleye Ranchero which I did tonight, using some fillets that our friend, also from Retama, gave to us.  Very good, and easy.  Could use any kind of fish. 

Something fishy here….

Day 30

LOCATION:  Outside Traverse City, Michigan
WEATHER:  Cool, but nice.  High 63

Another laundry morning….taking advantage of the nice amenities here.  While the clothes were drying, I took a brisk walk around the RV park.  Of the about 200 sites here, it looks like about 100 have RVs on them.  Of that 100, only about 30 campers are actually here.  In the laundry, I asked a lady about this.  She told me that this park used to be Airstsream only, and that people bought their lots.  About 5 years ago, it opened to non-Airstreamers.  They also have quite a few seasonal sites.  So, the lot owners and the seasonal campers set up their RVs in May, and use them like a cabin – coming and going.  Since it is not “real” summer yet, many are not being used yet.  It makes for a very quiet setting for us!

We hung around here for lunch.  George made fish tacos from the bass he caught yesterday, in the lake right next to our campsite.  They were yummy.

We have done the bus in Traverse City quite a bit – this summer and last.  Today, it failed us a bit.  Due to staffing issues, some of the routes have pick-ups only every hour, instead of half-hour.  We went to our designated pick-up place and had to wait almost an hour for the bus for a route we haven’t taken before.  We hopped off close to our destination (a brewery).  This is one of our favorite ones in Traverse City.  They are brewing asparagus beer in preparation for the asparagus festival coming up.  It wasn’t available yet for us to taste.  They do have other weird ones, which we tried.

Then, we searched for a second brewery.  After walking about 45 minutes, we realized we were walking in the wrong direction, so gave up.  Then, we went in search of our bus route.  Again, we walked the wrong way.  We didn’t mind the walk, though, as the sun had come out and it was very pleasant.    We finally found the bus stop, and waited, and waited, and waited.  We were getting a bit nervous as the buses stop running at 6:00, and it was 5:45.  Finally one came.   Whew!  We won’t be taking this route again. 

DINNER:  Michigan is famous for its smoked fish, and tonight I used some smoked whitefish for our entree.  I sauteed some onions, garlic, and artichoke hearts in butter to make a sauce.  At the end, I put in just a teaspoon of cream cheese to melt to thicken the sauce a bit.  At the end, I added the smoked fish.  I served over penne pasta.  Quite good!  George had pickled beets as his side.  (None for me, thank you)

Traverse City…..Un-corked!

Day 29

LOCATION:  Just outside Traverse City, Michigan
WEATHER:  Cooler.  High 55 and breezy

Time for a wardrobe change.  We pulled out the jackets and sweaters, and brought out the extra blanket – lows around 40. 

Traverse City is the home of a former huge insane asylum, housing more than 3000 patients at one time.  The architects built a large community so that the patients could “live in beauty”.  The buildings have now been converted to restaurants, bars, apartments, condos, shops, breweries, and wineries, all in a beautiful campus-like setting.  We had lunch in one of their restaurants, called Spanglish. 

Then we were off to to the Leelanau Wine Trail, one of the peninsulas north of Traverse City.  We signed up for “Traverse City-Uncorked”, a promotion that they are doing to support the wineries in May.  After we go to 5 wineries, we will get a “prize”, and at each winery we get a discount on a tasting and/or a purchase of wine.  Fun!

This was our first stop.  Michigan has some really good wines.  We skipped the fruit and sweet ones. 

The scenery was beautiful, following Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau.  The cherry trees are starting to bloom.  Traverse City has a month-long cherry festival in July.  (Probably best to avoid the crowds then)

This was another stop – in a beautiful setting.

At one winery, we tasted their new sparkling wine called Joy.  Of course, we had to buy a bottle!

Three wineries were our limit.  So many to chose from…..and so little time.  This is a perfect time of year to visit them, as bus tours and other tourists are packed in later in the summer.

DINNER:  George grilled hamburgers and I made this polenta/asparagus dish using some fresh, local asparagus:

1.5 cups polenta, coarse-grind cornmeal or corn grits
1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt, plus more as needed
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan, or more to taste, plus shaved Parmesan for serving
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 large or 4 small shallots (or 1 small red onion), thinly sliced
3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups frozen or fresh peas (no need to thaw frozen peas first)
⅓ cup vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup torn mint leaves, or use parsley, cilantro or a combination of any soft herbs
Freshly ground black pepper

Step 1
If cooking polenta on stovetop: In a medium pot over high heat, combine 4½ cups water, polenta and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how finely the polenta is ground (coarse-ground polenta takes longer).

Step 2
Alternatively, cook polenta in oven: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot over high heat, bring 4½ cups water, polenta and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, stirring constantly until the mixture starts to thicken slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then give the mixture a stir. If it looks dry, add another ½ cup water. Cover the pot once more, and continue to bake for another 20 to 30 minutes.
Step 3
When polenta is thick and creamy, stir in 2 to 4 of the tablespoons butter (depending on how buttery you like it) and the Parmesan. Taste and add more Parmesan and salt, if needed.
Step 4
As the polenta cooks, prepare the vegetables: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add shallots and sauté until tender and golden, 4 to 6 minutes.
Step 5
Stir in garlic and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant and very lightly golden in spots. Add vermouth and cook until alcohol evaporates, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 6
Stir in asparagus and peas, and cook until vegetables are glossy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add stock, remaining 2 tablespoons butter and a large pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender and sauce thickens slightly, 2 to 8 minutes. (Thicker asparagus will take longer to soften.) Stir in the mint. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
Step 7
To serve, spoon polenta into bowls, top with vegetables and their sauce, and grind on lots of fresh pepper. Finish with shaved Parmesan.

It was very good, but I added too much liquid (stock and wine), so it was a bit soupy. 

Downtown Traverse City fun

Day 28

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City, Michigan
WEATHER:  Another nice one.  High 71

Today we decided to renew our passports.  We are going to Europe in the late summer/fall and the expiration date is supposed to be at least 6 months beyond travel dates.  So, first up was Walgreens to get the (ugly) passport photos taken. 

Someone told us that Traverse City has a population of about 30,000, but in the summer it swells to 500,000.  Not sure if that is exact, but it is true that downtown gets very hectic.  Parking is almost impossible.  So, we researched the bus system and found a Park&Ride not far from our RV park.  We took the (free) bus into town and the friendly driver dropped us off just at the place we wanted to visit….Little Fleet.  This is a bunch of food trucks arranged in a circle anchored by a bar.  You choose your food truck, order a drink, and then sit in the central area. Our truck choices for lunch were BBQ, hamburgers, tacos, or Asian street food.  We chose the last, sharing a rice bowl and charred shishito peppers.  Great!

After lunch, we walked around downtown and found the main Post Office.  Here we attempted to fill out the passport renewal forms.  It was quite comical….the forms say that you cannot correct any mistakes, but you are supposed to start all over again.  So, we had to return to the clerk about 5 times asking for a new form.  After about an hour, we finished this task and were pooped.  So….what to do?  A brewery of course!  We found a new one we hadn’t visited before – First Coast

The flowering pear trees are at their peak.  They line many of the downtown streets….

By the time we returned, it was almost time for dinner.  While I started cooking, George said he would just dip his fishing pole in the part of the lake right behind the trailer.  What a miracle!  He caught a nice bass!  Maybe lunch tomorrow?

DINNER:  With some Take&Bake ciabatta bread, I made open-faced sandwiches.  I grilled the bread, spread on a thin layer of cream cheese, and then topped with different kinds of salami and cold cuts, plus cheese.  I topped with kalamata olives and marinated artichoke hearts.  Side was a lettuce and tomato salad.  It was quite tasty.  Easy clean-up, too!

Michigan….the Great Beer State

Day 27

LOCATION: Outside Traverse City, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Holiday RV Park
WEATHER:  Superb!  Sunny.  High 73

We had our normal Sunday morning routine – George’s breakfast while watching CBS Sunday Morning.  We are really liking this RV park.  The showers are fantastic and right next door; the views are superb; and the (few) neighbors we have are quiet. 

Michigan… many breweries and so little time…

Last year and this year, we are making our way through all the 15 breweries in Traverse City listed in this magazine.  That is not counting the many other breweries, microbreweries, and nanobreweries  just a few miles away in smaller towns.  Today we checked 2 more off the list. 

The first one today was Farm Club, out in the country and popular among bicyclists as there is a path nearby.  The tulips are at their peak.  In addidtion to making and selling beer and food, they have a small farmers’ market and bakery.  Their farm-to-market type food is really great, and different from most brewpubs.  We shared a warm panzanella (bread salad) with homemade sausage.  It was out of this world.

Next up was a brewery that is only about 2 miles from our RV park – Brewery Terra Firma.  The weather was so nice that we sat outside and enjoyed our beers (IPA for me; porter for George)

We bought some fresh asparagus and learned that western Michigan is the “asparagus capital of the world”.  We will be in this area in June when two towns have asparagus festivals that we hope to attend.  We learned that one brewery makes asparagus beer for the occasion.  Sounds awful, but of course – we will give it a try!

Back in Joy, George watched golf while I read.  The site next to us had been vacant, but today the longest Airstream I have ever seen moved in next to us.  After setting up, the people disappeared!  It looks like several sites have been set up  like this for the summer, but the campers have not moved in yet. 

DINNER:   Appetizer was steamed, fresh asparagus.  Main was  Indian lentils (compliments of Trader Joe’s) over couscous with a few grilled shrimp on top.  Quite good….and easy!

Exploring our home for the next 9 days

Day 26

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City, Michigan
WEATHER:  Really nice.  High 75.  Light occasional showers

As I wrote yesterday, this summer is quite a departure from our usual travels.  In the past 8 summers, we have explored a lot of USA, Canada, and Mexico, hopping from place to place every 2-5 days.  We spent last summer here in Michigan, doing the same thing in multiple state parks.  We found places that we liked the best, and this year have returned to Michigan to enjoy them more slowly.

We took about 3 weeks to get here, making a detour to Big Bend National Park on our way.  Here is our route….

We will spend 9 days here at Holiday RV Park. Later in the summer we will spend an entire month in one place.  We are wondering how we will like that.   Today, we walked around the RV park checking out the other sites and RVs.  There are different sections of the park with varying prices.  Some of the most desirable look like they are seasonal.  The park does a nice job with maintenance.  There are a lot of flower beds between sites.  A nice touch.  Here is the view from our site….

And, on the edge of our site is an even better view…

You can see Joy, our Airstream, across the lake.

When it started to rain, we ducked back in to the camper and did quite a bit of computer work (with great wifi).  I booked several campgrounds for August, as we head back to Texas via the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota.  Yikes – again, I was too late for some, as they were already booked. 

We also worked on booking flights and hotels for our trip to Europe this fall.  We had planned this European trip for 2021, but of course everything was cancelled due to Covid.  I was happy to be able to use coupons from those cancelled flights to book new ones. 

DINNER:  George made a fire in our firepit and used a grate to cook our dinner using an iron skillet. 

He lightly fried (oil only, no breading) delicate walleye fish fillets that our fishing friend Theresa had given us.  They were perfectly cooked.  Sides were rice and pickled beets, another gift from Theresa.  Nice! 

Loving Michigan already….the lake, the beauty, and the smoked whitefish!

Day 25

LOCATION:  Outside of Traverse City, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Holiday Park RV Resort.  On Silver Lake.  Some sites (ours) have lake views.  We are in a shaded section.  Nice gravel, level sites with full hook-ups.  Fire pit and picnic table.  Very nice bathroom and laundry. Great cell service, wifi, and cable TV.   Boat rentals.  $67/night – ouch!  (Other sections of the park are less expensive, but not as nice).    4 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Unususally hot.  93 high

We had a nice overnight in the ferry’s parking lot.  This is our view when we woke up….

  In no rush, we walked downtown and found the local spot for breakfast – Brenda’s Cafe.  Brenda served us a kid’s/senior omelette …..which we shared!  She commissioned this mural on the side of the cafe.

We walked around Ludington’s very cute downtown.  They are building a lot of condos along the waterfront.  I think I could live here…in the summer.

We took the scenic route, following Lake Michigan, stopping in Frankfort for lunch.  We had Michigan smoked whitefish dip on ciabatta sticks.  Absolutely delicious!  (In a brewpub of course!)

George was happy as he found a brand-new baseball cap on the ground.  Here he is posing with it in front of some former lake swimmers.

There are a lot of tourist shops in Frankfort.  I bought a nice jacket on sale for when the weather turns chilly again.

This RV park used to be for Airstreams only, but now  is for any camper.  We checked it out last year and decided to stay here for 9 days.  There is a shuttle bus in to Traverse City, and there are a lot of things to do nearby.  This is something new to us.  In the past, we have stayed 2-5 nights in one place, hopping all around.  This summer we are taking it easier with longer stays. 

While George set up, I did 3 weeks of laundry.  Ugh! 

DINNER:  Lots of leftovers.  I am trying to use up everything in the freezer so I can defrost it.  Another ugh!  Fried rice with leftover pork.  Sides were leftover cabbage salad and tomatoes.  Not too exciting, but good.