Pella, Iowa is a charming town built around a square, as many communities in #MiddleAmerica are, with architectural distinctions from its Dutch founding families. There is a historic portion of town where the buildings are preserved as they might have been in the 1800s. I focused on the more modern parts of town during “Thursday Night on the Square.”
This particular Thursday had an agricultural theme with Vermeer tractors, NRCS soil health booth, and the Iowa Corn trailer explaining the many wonders and uses of corn. There are also a number of fun stores to browse (including a quilt shop), but a must is Jaarsma Bakery where I tried the Dutch Letters for the first time. The only letters are an “S” and they are a light flaky pastry around an almond filling similar to that used in bear claws. It was delicious.
My cousin Lori lives in Pella, but because the other six siblings and families live closer to Stuart and Des Moines, she’s always been the one to drive to our gatherings. I decided on this trip to satisfy my curiosity about Pella. It is famous as a Dutch town with a tulip festival. It is a sister city to Holland, MI (where I visited in May). It is also the headquarters of the window manufacturer. It is a prosperous and friendly community. It is definitely worth the drive, even if you don’t have a cousin to visit.
Saugatuck reminded me of a New England coastal town. It has plenty of unique shops and kitschy places to find a t-shirt or set of salt & pepper shakers. The town is along the Kalamazoo River and hugs the smaller Kalamazoo Lake and a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan.
We stopped for the bookstores and the children’s park. Ray and V. played while I checked out the Book Nook. I found a couple of books for V–including the new classic Skippyjon Jones and a copy of Less by Andrew Sean Greer for Ray.
Lake Michigan is huge, but if you find yourself on it’s shore in western Michigan, you are in luck. I am sharing two eateries I enjoyed in Saugatuck and Fennville, both less than 30 minutes south of Holland, Michigan.
My friend Ray, his young daughter and I were hungry for lunch. We stopped at the Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions (3319 Blue Star Highway) in Saugatuck. They didn’t have a high chair but the bench seating was perfect for a toddler and dad. She was happy moving up down and all around and pausing to eat her blueberry pancakes.
You can order coffee and pastries as you enter, or pass through to the dining room. It just opened in 2019 and they serve breakfast and lunch.
We ordered blueberry pancakes for V., johnnycakes and ham for me, and whitefish salad for Ray. We shared bites and everything was delish. The service was terrific. Saugatuck is about to be fill to the brim with Chicagoans enjoying their summer vacations and Pennyroyal is ready for them.
Our second stop was for pie. Ray was showing me downtown Fennville and as we drove towards the village I saw the sign for Crane’s pie. I asked Ray if we could stop. My intention was to get a slice of rhubarb pie.
They were having a special event with a guest chef and wine tasting. The sign said closed but they welcomed us just the same. They couldn’t sell a slice of pie, but they had some whole pies for sale: cherry or apple. So we took home a cherry pie (frozen last season when cherries were ripe), and it was yummy. V. loved it too. Ray was on a diet. He urged me to take it home with me but I demurred because I didn’t want TSA to make me throw it out.
Ray is an excellent cook and he grilled steaks, paired with wonderful salads from Farmhouse Deli in Douglas, Michigan.
If you find yourself in western Michigan be assured that you will find good eats.
The tulips are blooming everywhere in Holland, Michigan. They are planted along most of the main roads and in the gardens. The tulips were already spent in my hometown so it was a treat to see so many different shades of tulips in bloom.
I was visiting my friend Ray and his daughter Victoria. We all went to the Farmer’s Market in downtown Holland. Not much was ready for harvest yet–just a lot of asparagus and rhubarb. The booths that in a few weeks will be filled with fresh fruit and produce were filled with plants for the house and garden.
Holland just finished expanding the community center, providing additional space for more processed food vendors. I’d bought fudge already. And Ray had purchased lots of single serving quiches at The Bakewell Company. I was tempted to purchase some Worcestershire sauce from Black Sheep Gastronomy when I remembered I couldn’t pack it in my carry-on. (As it was, TSA in Grand Rapids debated if the fudge was allowed!) It was the first farmer’s market of the year so it wasn’t super busy. There was good energy and it is always hopeful to see local farmers offering beautiful vegetables. And I love seeing rhubarb!!! This under appreciated vegetable is still grown in western Michigan.
My blog posts have slowed in the last month or so because much of my spare time is dedicated to eating an elimination diet and acupuncture appointments. I soak my feet in an herbal tea and I drink gallons of alkaline water. I haven’t felt well for about 2 years but when I broke out in hives in mid-February and they were still with me 6 weeks later, I knew I had to take the time to address my health.
I still don’t know what is at the root of my health issues. I am in the club of women and men who live with chronic pain that western medicine isn’t good at diagnosing let alone providing relief. If I had to guess I’d say that our western lifestyle is toxic. I know I’d feel better if I could travel. But I had to cancel my Michigan adventure due to my most extreme sciatica episode to date.
My pets are glad to have me home. Yet I need to do something to satisfy my wanderlust.
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts as I cook and soak. Two of my favorites are about reading: What Should I Read Next? and Reading Women. They are both delightful and now the top of my dresser is heaving with books to read. When Reading Women podcast hosts interviewed author Chibundu Onuzo, she recommended several books I wrote down for future reading, including Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala. I already had on my list My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss as a recommendation from WSIRN? I took the plunge and purchased them both.
I read My Berlin Kitchen first because I heard it favorably compared to Ruth Reichl’s memoirs and because I’m curious about Germany — Berlin has been rising on my places to go list. Never fear, if you think it is a book full of German recipes, it is much more varied. The author is American/Italian with deep ties to Berlin. The book is really the story of growing up on two continents and with people she loves in 3 or more countries before and after the Wall fell. She tells her story in short chapters ending with a recipe. I marked 9 different recipes I’d like to try. I already tried her Uncle’s ragu sauce and it was a B+ (of course I did not cook it for 3-5 hours as suggested). This book made me want to go to Berlin, and return to Italy, and for others it might make you want to go to Paris. Not me. She also sends a lot of love to New York City and even Los Angeles. It is a fun read and I managed it in a weekend.
Longthroat Memoirs is much less accessible to me. I have been to South Africa and Capetown is near the top of my wish list because of the penguins, but Nigeria is not on my list yet. This is an ambitious book as it is introducing a complex culture (Nigeria is very large and has many ethnic cultures within), and a cooking style with whom few people have any familiarity. I also found her writing more convoluted to follow with many references I don’t get. To be fair, so does Weiss, but I know Laura Ingalls Wilder and why someone would pine to go to Prince Edward Island.
Also, I cannot envision making groundnut soup, also known as Nigerian River Province Soup or Bayelsa. Aribisala seems determined more to use food as an entry point to so many other subjects that it is probably miscast as a food memoir. And where would I get the ingredients! “There is the green leaf vegetable that cannot, and most definitely should not, be frozen spinach. There is afang leaf unwound from its symbiotic partner in the bush. There is afang leaf grown in town and snubbed by the bush afang. There is the pumpkin leaf that, in one unique language ‘ibok iyep’ (red blood corpuscle) for its nutritional powerhouse status.” (p 23)
So while the book doesn’t satisfy as a food memoir, it is essential reading if you want to spend more time in the diverse countries of Africa. I will give it to Grace Julie who has already traveled extensively in Western Africa.
Food is such an essential part of the travel experience. I will explore this in more detail in future blog posts.
All of my travel magazines have lists of the best places to see in 2018. Some of the places on their list are on mine also, making me rethink my list. (Will it be too crowded?) I don’t actually think the travel magazines has as much influence as they want their advertisers to think they do. Travel is an investment and most people have many reasons for choosing the places they go. If you are like me, these articles sometimes help with information on a location I already plan to go. They have never been the spark for wanting to go in the first place. Have you had a different experience? Did an article inspire you to go somewhere you never thought of before?
Actually, I just experienced something similar with a story on National Public Radio. I’ve never been that keen to go to Puerto Rico. Then I heard this story about one of the world’s best bioluminescent bays getting its glow back after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly I wanted to go. Plus it would have the added bonus of helping the economy. So Vieques, Puerto Rico is on my 2018 list of possibilities.
This year I was able to go to a few places that have been on my list for years, such as Denmark and Sweden. In 2018 I hope to finally visit Detroit, Michigan. Some friends are interested in meeting up there. We have another friend who grew up there so if she can’t meet us we know we’ll get some good recommendations from her. She still visits often. I realize that going to visit friends is a huge motivational factor in my travel wish list.
I’m hankering to get back to Belfast, Northern Ireland after a decade away. And to New Zealand after just a year away. I already have my tickets for another trip to New York City with my mom for Broadway plays and the New York Times Travel Show.
Where are you going in 2018 and why? Where are you dreaming about as close out 2017?
I have been away from my blogs for a couple of months. I bought a house and moved. I traveled and had a lot of work on my plate. I also just needed to gain some perspective on blogging. Why do I do it? Shall I continue to do it?
Then I read something my daughter wrote to me in a card about how I observed more closely the beauty in the world and shared it in my blog. She appreciates that and so do I. The process of writing about the encounters with wonderful generous people, or special places does help me look at the world more generously, more kindly.
Finally, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I was reminded of all the good things about blogging. Including big ideas like freedom of expression and creativity. The Smitten Kitchen inspires ME to cook so a blog can clearly be powerful.
I hope you have wonderful lists of places and travel ideas where you may go next and heaps of photos from the places you already been. Happy New Year.