Finding Magic in Marquette

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Yoopers, a term for describing folks who live in the Upper Peninsula, are a hardy all-season people. But many of us trolls, living south of the Mackinac Bridge, need to make our way to the far north while the sun still shines.

Summertime is something that comes late and leaves early in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it provides a spectacular experience for those inclined to explore the northernmost part of the Mitten State.

I never have enough time to really do justice to the U.P. when I visit because it has so much to offer, especially for enthusiasts of the great outdoors. A few highlights come to mind: Lazing around any of the three contiguous Great Lakes (Superior, Huron and Michigan), and biking, climbing or hiking miles and miles of pristine natural areas.

Mapping my U.P. route for a recent visit reminded me that getting there would be a real commitment. Driving time from Battle Creek to Marquette is seven hours. While the cliché may be true about getting there being half the fun, I decided to fly to Marquette instead and started my exploration there.

The largest city in this part of the state, Marquette boasts a robust 20,000 population, and it is also home to Northern Michigan University. The charming historic brownstone buildings along Washington Street confirm the age of the city, founded in 1849.

My overnight destination was the Landmark Inn, its brick exterior visible from many parts of the downtown.

A member of Historic Hotels of America, the Landmark is a small boutique hotel with 62 rooms and nine suites, having opened its doors in 1930. Everyone who was somebody—including notables like Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington and the Rolling Stones—stayed at what was originally known as the Northland Hotel.

The warm dark wood paneling, crystal chandeliers and oriental carpets in the lobby were part of a top to bottom renovation done in 1995. My room had a spa tub and a king-sized bed that required a short step-stool to reach.

To get a sense of place, I visited the downtown Marquette Regional History Center with its exhibits and displays of Marquette County’s past. Where else can you visit a beaver pond exhibit, an authentic Ojibwa wigwam and an early settler’s cabin (moved from a local homestead)? Through September, the center is hosting a great display of area folk art.

For sustenance, I settled on Sweet Water Café, which offered breakfast — my favorite meal of the day — until 3 p.m. Their focus on fresh, local and made-from-scratch meals sounded wonderful. It was a difficult choice between building my own omelet and the Rise and Shine Sandwich, which united bacon, fried eggs, tomato and cheddar cheese on a wheat bun. The sandwich won me over and filled me up, especially with grilled potatoes on the side.

There are lots of dining choices in Marquette, from Cajun cooking at the Lagniappe to Doncker’s, with its old-fashioned soda fountain and luncheonette.

Getting outside is, of course, the main area attraction, and the miles of secluded beaches and bike trails won’t disappoint. While I could have rented a bike, I opted for a rental car instead and started down scenic Lakeshore Drive to Presque Isle State Park. The park is a 323-acre forested oval shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Superior at the very northern tip of the city.

I also recommend a guided tour of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. The view from atop the lighthouse is not to be missed. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll appreciate why so many locals have embraced the motto, “Lucky to be from da U.P.”

Dinner and a show just a drive away

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

132843_168286879874752_3559077_oDate night at my house occasionally involves a movie and popcorn at the local movie theater. Sometimes, after a long week of work, we don’t have the energy to leave the house, but instead flip on a late-run movie and order a pizza.

With spring in the air, however, we could all make a little more of an effort to improve our cultural and culinary IQ.

Drive in any direction and you can find an outstanding meal and high-quality, live theater and music of all genres. Following are three of my favorites.

Our own little town of Marshall boasts two live theater options, and several great restaurant choices.

With its recent refurbishment, the Franke Center for the Arts is a gem of a small theater venue, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. In 1921, the Center started out as the Brooks Memorial Methodist Church. The Marshall community came together in 1998 to save the historic building, and the Marshall Civic Center Trust was born.

Many small Michigan communities, such as Marshall, build their cultural life around an iconic place like the Franke, and its appeal is built on the strength of local patrons and volunteers. The Marshall Civic Players are putting on “Boeing Boeing” this weekend and next.

Another choice for live performances in Marshall — Great Escape Stage Company — is a tiny theater in the round. You can buy tickets right now for an almost participatory theater experience. “The Light in the Piazza” opens May 19.

Right down the block is the venerable Schuler’s restaurant, where fresh new plates join traditional favorites on the Winston’s Pub and Centennial Dining Room menus. The prime rib sandwich is my favorite. During the season, Schuler’s outside seating area beckons the pre-theater crowd.

Another popular Marshall destination is Zarzuela’s. The tapas and sangria are perfect theater-night complements.

Kalamazoo has several live theater and music venues. My favorite is the State Street Theatre. Since 1927, the theater has been an anchor of downtown. Many acts have tread its boards, including vaudeville, big band, ballet and opera. In 1985, a group of concerned citizens came together to “Save the State,” and another landmark venue was preserved.

Kalamazoo has a diverse and well-established food scene, with personal favorites Rustica, Zazios and Bold leading the way.

Before catching one of the music acts at the State this spring, try new destination Principle Food & Drink for dinner. Principle is a rustic-chic hangout serving cocktails and food they call “elevated comfort grub,” made with local ingredients. As a starter, the cheddar biscuits are to die for. And if you like veggies, I suggest the beet salad or spring pea soup. Small plates such as the crispy chicken thigh (with hash-roasted new potato, garlic sausage and romesco sauce) bring fresh flavors to the table. The real appeal is Principle’s mixology, however. The Smoked Sazarac is a show-stopper, with infused smoke from a small device adding to the presentation and flavors.

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A short drive away from Calhoun County is the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. This high-quality regional theater is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the product of actor Jeff Daniel’s dream to create a strong local repertory theater. Now the theater is a community landmark with a significant economic impact on the surrounding county.

The same year Purple Rose opened, Craig Commons created the Common Grill as a dining destination for theater-goers. Both the theater and the restaurant have thrived. Try the fresh oysters for a special treat before the show.

These are just three area choices. So many more communities offer similar “dinner and a show” experiences. Try them the next time you and your significant other are looking for an evening out.

Eating ribs and brisket — Michigan style

 

Pork ribs and a beer at Darkhorse's Spring Smoke Off

Pork ribs and a beer at Darkhorse’s Spring Smoke Off

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

It’s everywhere, an undeniably growing culinary and tourism phenomenon — barbecue.

This moment of clarity occurred as I walked through the Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s 6th annual Smokefest last weekend in Marshall, where I munched on a dazzling array of ribs, brisket and smoked butt while sampling Dark Horse’s brews. I marveled at the diversity and sheer number of barbecue “pitmasters” at the Smokefest. These folks arrived early Friday with portable tents, and barbecue equipment, settling in to feed a packed crowd. Thousands of dollars were raised for charity, and a lot of napkins were dispensed to satisfied BBQ enthusiasts.

Barbecue events are increasingly popular everywhere, and it turns out you don’t have to wait an entire year for another opportunity to lose yourself in an orgy of pork ribs and beef brisket — Michigan style. People who are serious about this food category travel a sauce-soaked circuit of sorts, sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

The KCBS sanctions more than 450 barbecue contests worldwide and requires participating teams to cook four meats: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket. Teams on the circuit are also angling for a spot at the fall Jack Daniels Invitational World Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Throughout the summer and beyond, people (like my husband) who adore barbecue can spend entire weekends following amateurs and pros while debating the fine points of sauce.

It turns out the sauce is crucial, and all real barbecue aficionados seem to have a favorite style — Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas. The styles dovetail with the self-proclaimed barbecue meccas, but you don’t have to be in any of those locations to experience great meat.

To start your barbecue odyssey in Michigan, how about a visit to Pork in the Park on Friday, May 20, in Wyandotte, a small town south of Detroit? You can grill with the mayor.

That same weekend, on the other side of the state, St. Joseph hosts BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass: A Taste of Michigan, where you can spread a blanket and listen to music while sampling a collection of local barbecue, craft beer and Michigan wine.

Three weekends of barbecue begin on June 10, when you visit the lovely village of Clio in Genesee County for the first-ever Elf Khurafeh Shrine BBQ Competition, Music Festival and Mud Bog (think a monster truck rally with mud).

On June 18, the Detroit suburb of Lathrup Village hosts its first Summer in the Park, with 30 rib-cooking teams competing while visitors sample arts and crafts and enjoy the ribs.

The next weekend, try a much larger event, the Auburn Hills Barbecue Cook-off. This event is part of the annual Auburn Hills Summerfest, a full festival with live music, a 5K run and a kid’s sidewalk art contest.

July 15-17, the action switches to the Big D (Detroit) for those who like their ribs with Rhythm and Blues. Local barbecue experts flock to this unique event in Hart Plaza downtown, where they can listen to talented R&B performers while noshing on ribs, brisket and chicken.

The following weekend, you can combine your ‘que with the blues in Birch Run at the Blues, Brews and Barbecue event. This one is for the biggest purse in Michigan — a cool $10,000 for the competing teams.

I’m sure I’ve missed as many events as I’ve discovered. One thing is certain, however. For a summer in barbecue heaven, Michiganders can indulge in finger-licking ribs plus the trimmings of your choice, be it mud-bogging or the blues, so don’t wait to stop and smell the smoke.

Spring comes to Mackinac Island

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

It is April, and that means the horses are returning to Mackinac Island. The island’s 500-plus horses arrive throughout the month by ferry.  It’s a gradual process of transporting hundreds of horses from the Upper Peninsula farms where they winter to their summer jobs on the island.

While officially off-season and subject to our changeable weather, the early spring is a great time for a visit to the island. Prices are lower, and crowds sparse. During April and May, it can also be a very romantic time, in the sun, mist, rain (or even snow), and minus the hordes of school children that come later in the year.

I loved staying at Island House Hotel, a Mackinac tradition with 160 years of hosting visitors. The porch was a wonderful place to rock and to look out over the harbor. We were traveling with a group, so we choose a suite with a private balcony overlooking Mackinac Island State Park. The suite had two bedrooms, one with a king bed and the other with two queen size beds. The suite also had two bathrooms, one featuring a Jacuzzi-style tub. Up to eight people can squeeze into the spacious accommodations. Island House opens on May 6.

Our daughter has turned into a breakfast fanatic, although she now prefers being served about 10:30 a.m. Accordingly, we slipped into the Pancake House on Main Street for a rib-sticking brunch. I stuck to the more traditional Western Omelet, but we also sampled their “famous” Banana Nut French toast, which was about as rich as it sounds. Lots of hot coffee was consumed as a prelude to renting bikes and riding around the island.

For folks who don’t ride bikes regularly and who just want an afternoon outing, the island is paradise, with a flat, circular, 8.2-mile route around the island and past landmarks Arch Rock and Devil’s Kitchen. You can rent a bike of any speed or type. I always look for the one with the soft seat. There are also more than 70 miles of dirt and paved trails on the island.

All of this fresh air required a search for an outstanding burger, so we stopped at the Huron Street Pub and Grill. The Bacon & Bleu Burger called my husband’s name, while I sampled the Father Marquette, a lightly fried whitefish sandwich. Both were good, and the onion rings a must order. The Pub had a really nice selection of beers on draft, too.

After a little fudge sampling, we stopped at JL Beanery for an afternoon coffee and a view of the water while we plotted our evening. We had never done the tour of haunted island sights, but it was a pleasant night for a stroll, and we learned about the history of the island and some of its previous residents, happy and unhappy. When the streets of Mackinac Island get quiet, it is very possible to imagine that you aren’t alone.

If you want lots of non-spectral company, plan your trip June 3-10 for the 68th Annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. Some years the only things that don’t show up are the lilacs, which bloom on their own schedule. The celebration’s signature event is the Lilac Festival Grand Parade.

For me, visiting Mackinac Island has become a rite of spring … a magical escape to a simpler time and one where no cars are necessary. Just ask the horses.

Visiting Paris Post-Attacks

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

12977213_10153582672734537_4317183048242907704_oParis has always been one of my favorite cities in the world, since I first visited with my father at age 15. Preparing for travel, however, becomes more problematic when the U.S. State Department posts a warning on its France travel page, “Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.”

I felt very strange riding the Metro in from Charles De Gaulle Airport this time, wondering how any city keeps miles of rail lines safe, much less major airports. I expected to find a city under siege, streets deserted, doors firmly closed with shades pulled down.

Instead I found the Paris of my memory – people filling the streets, bars overflowing and a strong sense that this is not a country that will give in to a bully. And neither should any American planning a visit.

I did notice the armed military presence in the subway stations and soldiers walking the streets in groups of two to four. Fully armed with automatic weapons and in camouflage with jaunty berets, these men and women had not been part of the Paris I remembered, but were very comforting to see.

We chose a lovely hotel, Relais des Halles, with 19 rooms. Moderate in price for Paris (less than $150 a night), the room was typically small, but very nicely furnished with an extremely comfortable queen-sized bed. What size rooms can you expect in a 17th century building?

No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to one of the many open-air markets and shopping streets. Nearby, the Rue Montorgueil had the advantage of being open every day with lots of bakeries, gourmet stores and fish stands as well as restaurants and bars. Another favorite, not too far away, was the Marché des Enfant Rouges, named after a 16th century orphanage. This market had all the wonderful fresh fruit, cheese and bread one expects in Paris and also a terrific selection of “foreign” food – Lebanese, African and even Japanese.

We happened upon the Brasserie Le Petit Marcel on Rue Rambuteau. A hearty bowl of onion soup and an open-faced toasted cheese sandwich were perfect. The place was very busy, but the waiter didn’t rush us.

Our favorite splurge meal was a prix fixe lunch ($45 each) at Benoit, a restaurant owned by the famous French chef Alain Ducasse. It has a rich history, first opening its doors in 1912. One family had owned it for 93 years until they sold to Ducasse in 2005. Benoit had a very classic bistro feel with red velvet seats and shiny brass railings. The meal had three courses, with a crispy leek tart to start, followed by Guinea fowl fricassee and an Armagnac savarin with lightly whipped cream. Heaven!

A visit to the Louvre Museum, one of the world’s finest, took up the better part of a day. There is now a great shopping mall underground next to the museum, the Carousel de Louvre. Our favorite nearby museum is the Musée D’Orsay, which features the most incredible collection of the French Impressionist painters.

On a whim, we decided to visit the famous flea market, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. We wandered for hours through the stalls with antique jewelry, furniture, old books, records and vintage clothes, looking for that perfect something. Luckily, our suitcases were already too stuffed to bring home anything but one small vase.

Eating, drinking, great art and culture, Paris remains a world-class tourist destination, always welcoming any traveler. As I learned on this visit, it is also a city of strength and determination against any threat. Vive la France.

Ann Arbor Offers Something for Everyone

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

Many people, when they think about Ann Arbor, remember a visit to the internationally known art fair in July or a football game at “The Big House.” Both are great reasons to visit Michigan’s sixth-largest city, but those experiences just scratch the surface of what Ann Arbor has to offer.

For several years, our family’s annual trip to Ann Arbor started with a brunch at Zingerman’s Road House. Right off Interstate 94, the Road House features “really good American fare.” My husband loves the fried chicken and barbecued beef; I love their mac and cheese and their black bean burger.

After stuffing ourselves, we usually visit the Treasure Mart, a terrific consignment store found downtown on Detroit Street near the original Zingerman’s Deli (another great stop). During my last visit, I bought a wrought iron table and chairs for our deck for a pittance and an antique dresser for less than $100.

Consigned items in the store get an automatic 10 percent discount every month, so you can find some great deals.

If we are lucky and the season is right, we also squeeze in a stop at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, where we can take home locally grown produce, plants, jams, home decorations, furniture, pottery and candles — all of which are on display in the open-air market.

The first week of April offers other unique reasons to visit Ann Arbor. That’s the weekend when foolishness is on parade in the city.  The April 1 FoolMoon Friday, a 10-year tradition, is a street party from dusk until midnight, when hundreds of people make luminaries of all kinds and march into downtown with all of the other “fools.” On Sunday, April 3, the FestiFools takes place from 4 to 5 p.m. and strange giant puppets loom over downtown on Main Street. Sounds like fun, right?

To make my point that Ann Arbor offers something for everyone, serious art lovers can visit the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where 150 years of collections are a gem. The university also offers a Museum of Natural History for those more interested in the natural world.

Having a world class university in your town also means that top notch performers come through town frequently.

Another benefit of a college town is the wide array of interesting restaurants at all price ranges.

At my favorite spot, the Original Cottage Inn, pizza is plentiful. According to the proprietors, the Cottage Inn was the first restaurant in Ann Arbor to serve pizza. Lots of folks also like Pizza House, because it is a cool place to hang out to watch the game, and it’s also perfect for big parties.

If you’ve developed a thirst during your visit, beer of all flavors can be found in Ann Arbor, including craft beer at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and the Arbor Brewing Company Brewpub.

No Thai!, on South University Street, is still a great choice for a casual meal, and West Main Street offers dining alfresco (once the weather cooperates) at restaurants like Café Felix.

Or try Gratzi, a wonderful Italian restaurant, which has been part of the dining scene for almost 30 years.

If it is a weekend trip you are planning, I can recommend the Stone Chalet, a charming 10-room bed and breakfast with delicious hot breakfasts. Filled with antiques, it’s not stuffy or chintz-filled. Choose a room with a fireplace, while the temperatures are still a little chilly.

My other favorite, The Campus Inn, will be re-opening this spring under a new brand, Graduate Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor offers something for every taste and every budget, and it is just a short drive away.

Grand Rapids Offer Museum Magic

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

To battle March cabin fever, a road trip to Grand Rapids is an excellent antidote. Very few cities of this size can offer five museums within a few blocks of downtown and lots of choices for a tasty lunch or early dinner. Let me give you a quick run down of the choices for a very-full day trip.

The modernistic Grand Rapids Art Museum built its new building in 2007. At the time, it was the first “green” museum in the United States. Their collections range from the Renaissance to Modern Art, with a special focus on 19th and 20th century European and American art. Until April 17th, you can see a special exhibit of rarely-exhibited 20th century ceramics, tableware, jewelry, textiles, bookbinding, and graphics, called “Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise.”

If you have children in tow, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is the place for you. The Museum offers interactive experiences that keep hands and minds challenged and occupied. The building has a long expanse of plate glass so you can look in on all of the fun. On a recent trip, the children we were with enjoyed an exhibit called “Little GR.” In this exhibit, they could see Grand Rapids at their scale, including a Fox Motors auto service center, Chemical Bank, Bistro Bella Vita Jr., a Meijer grocery store and the Grand Rapids Public Library Lending Library.

Being a kid at heart, I love to ride the giraffe on the 1928 hand-carved Spillman Carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, right on the Grand River. Founded in 1845, it is one of the oldest history museums in the United States. You can while away a number of hours stargazing at the Chaffee Planetarium on the second floor.

The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts offers its visitors an opportunity to interact with contemporary art in a variety of mediums. Right now, you can see a wonderful show featuring established and emerging Michigan artists. It’s called “Coming Home.”

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum isn’t open until June 7th, but there will be lots of time left in a summer of electioneering to plan a visit and to get a sense of Michigan’s own (and the nation’s 38th) president.

All this art and culture fun makes me hungry. There are lots of restaurants downtown, including one of my favorites, Angel’s Thai Café. It’s a simple, small place where I start off with a bowl of Tom Yum made with mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, tamarind and chili paste. The Bangkok Chicken is another good option — a breaded chicken breast stir-fried in a tangy Thai sweet and sour sauce and served on a bed of broccoli.

Another great choice has an odd name, the Electric Cheetah, but that is the only thing that is odd. What I love about the Cheetah is that the menu offers two polar opposite choices: The Marconi Zone, featuring their seven-cheese house blend pasta and The Green Zone, where you can choose The Health Hutt with quinoa, lentils, wilted spinach and seared salmon. I’ve tried both, and they are equally delicious.

If you are in the mood for a pub atmosphere, visit the Green Well Gastro Pub on Cherry Street, where craft beer can be paired with tasty, upscale pub food with a locally sourced healthy flair. The cold weather prompted me to order the Cherry Street Pork Posole, which features slowly braised pork served in a tomato broth with hominy. I love the sides of tortilla chips and guacamole on this dish.

In Grand Rapids, you can feed your soul with art and history while indulging your hunger with a wide range of tastes.

Chicago on the Fly

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Burger at BottleFork

Burger at BottleFork

Recently, my husband made an outlandish suggestion. “Let’s get on the train to Chicago on a Saturday morning. We will have three hours and Wi-Fi to make our plans.” Not known as a very spontaneous person, I surprised myself by agreeing. I also knew that Chicago, once it gets really cold and windy, isn’t a tourist mecca, and so we would be able to get a nice hotel or a restaurant reservation. So, off we went the Battle Creek Amtrak station for a 9 a.m. train.

Although we could have taken the car—a relatively short three hour Interstate drive—we decided to take the train, because of the iffy winter road conditions. The round trip train fare was $54 each –an economical choice even for two of us, especially when you consider mileage and parking in the city. A few cabs would costs a lot less. The Wolverine was non-stop to Chicago after the Kalamazoo station. The Wi-Fi on board the train was spotty, but worked well enough to assemble our basic plan.

First, we checked for last minute hotel deals. I had heard about an app called Hotels Tonight, which supposedly has the best last minute deals for major cities. They had a nice selection with some hotels we knew: the Swissotel, at $109, the Doubletree Chicago at $74, and the Talbott at $113 were the ones we considered. I hadn’t stayed at the Talbott for several years, and it had the highest “thumbs up” rating of 97%, so we booked a room. To compare prices, I checked a few other sites like Orbitz, which had a $146 rate available, so we saved a whopping $33.

Built in 1927, the Talbott had a cozy European feel with wood paneling and a fireplace. The cab ride to the Gold Coast address was more than to a downtown hotel, but I liked it because of its smaller size, only 149 rooms.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many plays we wanted to see. We agreed on a matinee musical called “The Man who Killed Sherlock Holmes” at the Mercury Theatre. Neither of us had ever heard of the theatre. When we got in the cab, the driver shook his head and said that it was “way north.” Luckily, it was still only a $20 cab ride and it introduced us to a part of the city that I hadn’t seen before, the Southport corridor.

We didn’t have any concerns about finding great food and walked by a place on Clark Street called Bottlefork. Little did we know that we had happened upon a hot new restaurant, according to Zagat’s restaurant guide. We sat at the 40-foot long bar counter overlooking the kitchen. Their cocktails, while pricey, were really tasty. I had a Vieux Carre with rye, cognac, vermouth and bitters, while my husband sampled his favorite, a Sazerac with whiskey, rye, cognac, absinthe and bitters. Our small plates were an incredible burger, Korean BBQ wings and truffle flatbread.

On Sunday, we decided on an early lunch at Chef Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill—at least that was where we wanted to eat. The Grill was filled, but there was space in Topolobampo, the Bayless-owned white tablecloth dining room adjacent. After a couple of the hand-shaken margaritas made at the table, we were happy with our last meal in Chicago. And we finished in time to take a relatively early train back to Battle Creek.

My best advice based on our overnight is, “Go ahead, be spontaneous!” Chicago is a wonderful city to see on the fly.

Celebrate Black History Month in Detroit

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

On a rainy, snowy Sunday in February, a visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit is a great way to spend the day.

This is an especially good month for a visit, because it is Black History Month. We first celebrated the unique contribution of African Americans to our national story during a week in February 1926 that spanned the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming. In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, the observance was expanded to a month’s duration. Since then, each president has issued African American History Month proclamations.

I’ve visited the Wright Museum of African American History many times and have always learned something new about the 35,000 artifacts it houses.

The cultural treasure was created through the vision of Dr. Charles Wright, a Detroit physician who was inspired after visiting a memorial to World War II heroes in Denmark. His vision grew into the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African-American experience. The Wright Museum’s mission is to use history to “inspire everyone toward greater understanding, acceptance and unity.”

My favorite exhibit remains “And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture,” a permanent exhibit that fills 22,000 square feet and 20 galleries. Don’t miss the movie introduction, as it sets the tone for the whole journey.

You begin in Africa, at the cradle of life, and travel over time and geography. The beginning witnesses the tragedy and resilience of African Americans, “enslaved but never mastered.” As you progress through history, you see how a new identity is created — “African American” — as strong families, businesses, educational institutions, spiritual traditions and civic organizations are created, leading all the way to present-day Detroit.

Continuing the theme of celebrating African-American contributions to the vitality of Detroit, I suggest a stop at former Detroit Lions football player Ron Bartell’s Kuzzo Chicken and Waffles at 19345 Livernois Ave.

Bartell opened this comfortable eatery last winter. According to a mural behind the bar, Kuzzo means “a term of endearment for one who is a friend or family member and a person of kindred culture race or nation.”

I must admit that my daughter first introduced me to this food combination, and I was not sold, initially. Tucking into a plate at Kuzzo, though, sealed the appeal of the crispy fried chicken and crunchy waffle. They offer 10 combinations of the Southern specialty.

At the other end of the food spectrum, I really like Detroit Vegan Soul. Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd opened this unusual restaurant at 8029 Agnes St. in Detroit’s West Village in 2013.

This is soul food that makes you feel healthy, so you can enjoy collard greens, barbecue and mac-n-cheese without any guilt. I didn’t try their signature tofu “catfish” on my first visit, but I will next time.

Another interesting choice for a snack or quick meal is Sweet Potato Sensations, 17337 Lahser Road in Redford, which is run by sisters Jennifer and Charice “Espy” Thomas.

The siblings run Sweet Potato Sensations with their parents, Jeff and Cassandra, who started the business in 1987.  At this establishment, sweet potatoes are elevated to new heights in pies, ice cream, cheesecake and cookies.

You don’t need a presidential proclamation or a special month to visit Detroit and experience the rich cultural and food scene of Michigan’s largest city. All it takes is a short drive down I-94 to the Motor City.

Embrace the cold on the Leelanau Peninsula

IMG_3038Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

With full winter now upon us, it’s time to embrace the cold and get some snow time scheduled. In my family, only one of us likes to ski or be outside at all in the cold. As a result, we needed a weekend escape that combined my husband’s love of sitting by a warm fire, wine glass in hand, and my desire to get my schuss on. Luckily for us, Northern Michigan offers both.

We decided to head to the Leelanau Peninsula, above Traverse City. The area features an entire wine trail for my husband to choose from, and to check out my ski legs, I could spend some time at the small, eight-run Hickory Hills Ski Area.

While we like the larger resorts of Crystal Mountain and Boyne, I hadn’t skied at Hickory Hills before, and it seemed like a good compromise location. Hickory Hills began operations before I was born, on 12 acres owned by Traverse City. Now it occupies nearly 125 acres. I knew I’d get a workout, since the hill only offers rope tows instead of chair lifts.

For sustenance, we stopped for fondue at the Hearth & Vine restaurant on the Black Star Farms estate. The cheese in the fondue was Leelanau Cheese Company’s raclette cut with a cherry brandy to ensure the right consistency for dipping the bread.

I’d like to come back up to the farm for one of their harvest dinners, a six-course extravaganza paired with their wines. How about a Valentine’s weekend stay, in our favorite suite with a fireplace and enjoying the root vegetables and chocolate tasting menu? The chocolate sounds perfect, but I’m not sure about root vegetables. I would just have to trust Chef Jonathan Dayton to make turnips, parsnips, potatoes and carrots into six wonderful courses.

In the meantime, we sampled just a few wines from the extensive list of varietal wines and unique spirits at the Barrel Tasting Room.

We did a quick tour of downtown Suttons Bay before heading to our overnight stay with friends. Next weekend, Jan. 30, will be a great time to visit this charming town, as they are having their annual YetiFest, in honor of that mythical snow creature. There will be a Yeti Variety Show, with a look-alike contest, a Yeti Stew cook-off and a Library Yeti Discovery program. This is not to be missed for all big, hairy Yeti aficionados.

While in the area, my husband toured two of his favorite wineries, L. Mawby and Ciccone. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery has the distinction of having been founded by pop singer Madonna’s father, Tony Ciccone. The Old World tasting room features wines bottled on the estate.

Larry Mawby’s tasting room sports a sign saying, “Welcome Bubbleheads,” and the charming tasting room offers at least two sparkling wines for tasting, free of charge.

Coming up Feb. 6-7 along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail is “Taste the Passion,” an annual celebration of wine, chocolate and love. Participants pick their own course on the wine trail between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

You might have noticed I haven’t written much about the skiing. It turns out I wasn’t quite yet ready for ski season. After a run down the intermediate slope, I ended up sitting by the fireplace, nursing my knee. The good news is that I have several more months of the cold white stuff, and I can hit the slopes again. My husband has more wineries to visit, too.