ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge
This summer, while vacationing on a North Carolina island, our family got a culinary tip from our beach house neighbor:
“When you see the shrimp boat come to the dock in the morning, the fisherman often sell shrimp for $1 per pound,” he advised.
My daughter and son-in-law made sure they were in line on the dock the last day of our stay. They came home with two pounds of shrimp and a fair-size flounder, all for $5. Our crew of six fixed a feast that night: shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi, and sauted flounder. It was about as fresh as you can get, and very delicious.
Since then I've learned of others who've had culinary adventures this summer, from Michigan to Australia, from the Napa Valley to Wisconsin.
Durenda Walker and her finance, Bill Walborn of Whitehouse, took over at the Grey Hare Inn, a vineyard bed and breakfast on Old Mission Peninsula, just north of Traverse City, Mich.
“I've never done that before,” she says. “But, a lot of people get involved in inn-sitting.”
While the owners went to see the Tall Ships in Chicago, the couple took care of guests staying in the three rooms of the inn for two days. The Grey Hare is a Provence/Tuscan farmhouse “surrounded by lavender fields, working vineyards, and cherry orchards,” she says.
“We had to check in guests, determine the time they wanted breakfast, and if they wanted a wake-up call.”
Owners Cindy and Jay Ruzak had sent the recipes for the three-course breakfast. First, coffee and juice were served with a fruit course and bread.
One morning the first course was poached pears in wine sauce with vanilla and cinnamon. The bread was a homemade focaccia bread layered with spiced pear jam and caramelized onions topped with a strip of bacon covered with blue cheese and then browned under the broiler. The Third course was Crepes du Nord, crepes filled with wild rice and morels served with scrambled eggs and garnished with with herbs de provence creme sauce.
Everything was garnished beautifully. “You have to garnish. [Cindy Ruzak] grows tiny pansies and mint which she serves with a mixed green salad that goes with a breakfast strata. It's very unusual, but looks fabulous on the plate.”
Ms. Walker had never made the recipes before. “Cindy overnighted me copious notes,” she says.
While guests were having their second course, Ms. Walker was refreshing their rooms if they were staying another night. “Then we would collect payment for those not staying over,” she says. “If they weren't staying, turning the room included changing the bed linens and vacuuming. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. Bill was the server and dishwasher.”
She also prepared hors d'oeuvres such as bruscetta for the social hour between 5 and 6 p.m., taking care to select the right linens and dishes. “[Cindy] wanted everything to match. I had to wash and iron them for the next day.”
Ms. Walker plans to use the recipes again. “I'll impress and amaze my friends,” she says.
The experience “was a blast. It was the best cure for someone who says, I want to open a bed and breakfast,” she says. “But I would do it again. It was a wonderful new experience.”
Teenagers were also traveling this summer and soaking up culinary experiences.
Peyton Williams-Young, 17, was a member of a national girls softball team with members from across the United States. The team, called the Stars, played 15 games in Australia for two weeks in June and July.
Her parents, Marc and Carol Williams-Young, traveled with the team. “My parents and I made sure to try to eat local food, and we tried two interesting things,” says the senior student at Maumee Valley Country Day School. “One was a fish called a barramundi, which I later saw swim in Sydney Aquarium.” The portion was enormous, she said, and the grilled fillet was served with avocado cream sauce.
“The other was Moreton Bay Bugs, which is a shellfish. The waiter jokingly made us think it was cockroaches,” says the teenager who was the team's starting catcher. “My dad ordered it as an appetizer. We saw it advertised as `barbecued bugs.' When the waiter said it was cockroaches, my mom and I looked at each other and said `You've got to be kidding.'”
The Moreton Bay Bugs look like crabs; each half was about 4 to 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, she says. “You eat it like lobster but it's not as sweet.”
The family brought home a package of Tim Tam cookies, which she describes as chocolate mousse filling between two thin, crispy cookies, like sugar cone wafers covered in chocolate.
While Australian food had ingredients and flavors similar to American foods, the combinations were different. “For breakfast we always were served broiled tomatoes served with eggs, greens such as spinach, and toast,” says the teenager. “Pumpkins were common, too. Eggs Benedict was served with diced cooked pumpkin with spinach and topped with a cold Hollandaise sauce that looked like a scoop of butter.”
Area travelers visited culinary centers and discovered new experiences in dining.
While in California's wine country, Mary Alice and Tom Shirk of Sylvania Township attended a demonstration cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone and visited Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine, and the Arts.
“We attended a program on eggplants,” she says. “They have a three-acre organic garden and had an entire table of different kinds of eggplants. They also had a program on Wisconsin sheep cheese paired with wine.”
“We spent a whole day there. It was wonderful.”
Kathy Reynolds of Maumee discovered the Euro Garden Cafe at the Mission Pointe Resort on Mackinac Island. The open air restaurant is surrounded by an 18-hole putting green. It offers a European-themed menu.
“They have a garden and serve excellent food,” she says. “It was so beautiful, with the flowers. We sat on the deck and there was [food] to satisfy everyone. We had four teenagers and three adults.” She remembers the mushroom and chicken crepes and the alfresco vegetables.
In July, Karen and Greg Bakies and their three children visited the Wisconsin Dells, a tourist mecca. “My husband calls it the Gatlinburg of Wisconsin,” she says.
They visited the Cheese Factory restaurant, with a vegetarian menu. “It looks like a 1950s ice cream parlor,” says the Perrysburg resident. “For someone who is not a vegetarian, you'll be surprised at the variety of selections.”
Housed in what was once a cheese factory, the restaurant has an international staff of 300-plus students from Endeavor Academy, a nondenominational Christian group. The students grow their own herb and spice garden, which supplies the restaurant. The international range of vegetarian dishes includes the appetizer of spicy peanuts and coconut curry sauce over bananas, a mushroom-potato stroganoff, and a spanikopita.
The desserts were popular with the Bakies family. “The kids enjoyed the ice cream sundaes,” says Mrs. Bakies. “We ate on the porch. You could see the flowers and the little picket fence. The landscaping was incredible.”
For more information:
The Grey Hare Inn, 1994 Carroll Rd., Traverse City, Mich., 231-947-2214.
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, 2555 Main St., St. Helena, Calif., 800-333-9242.
Copia, The American Center for Food, Wine, and the Arts, 500 First St., Napa, Calif. 888-51-COPIA.
Euro Garden Cafe, Mission Pointe Resort, Mackinac Island, Mich., 906-847-3312.
The Cheese Factory, 521 Wisconsin Dells Parkway South on Highway 12, Lake Delton/Wisconsin Dells, 800-208-6004.