Napa Valley Vegan Journeys From NorCal to Up North!

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If this is the first time you have heard that Michigan has an upper peninsula, don’t feel bad. Approximately 95% of the people I meet, have no idea either! In fact, most people don’t know that the state is made up of two peninsulas – the formerly mentioned Upper and the Lower. The Upper Peninsula is surrounded by three of the majestic Great Lakes – Michigan, Superior and Huron. The Lower Peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and the tip of Lake Eerie. I always feel sorry for those who give me that blank, vacant stare when I talk about growing up on the Great Lakes. It makes me sad that so many people have such a vague recollection of the very existence of these amazing lakes. And even more so that they have never had the opportunity to see or play in these amazing bodies of water. The Great Lakes have long been referred to as the Third Coast. I know, I know…no one believes me when I share this information with them. But it is true! The Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Eerie and Ontario form the largest group of freshwater on the entire planet! In fact, they contain over 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water by volume! Fun (and unbelievable) facts – Lake Superior is the largest continental lake in the whole wide world based on it volume (it’s REALLY cold too) and Lake Michigan is the largest lake on the planet that is located entirely within one country! And due to the sea-like characteristics – rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths and far-off horizons -the five Great Lakes have long been referred to as inland seas. Yep, due to the over 10,900 MILES of coastline, the Great Lakes provide excellent surfing conditions. Prime surfing is from October to April and has been drawing surfers since the 1960s. These are extra hardy surfers because not only do they have to deal with water that can reach freezing temperatures, they also have to watch out for floating blocks of ice! And if you aren’t impressed enough, my home state of Michigan has 3,288 miles of coast line. That is more than any other state (including my adopted home of California) except Alaska! Now you understand that growing up in a state like Michigan I had to come to a state like California to be sufficiently impressed!

My home state!
My home state!

I recently went back to Northern Michigan to celebrate my younger sister Keegan’s wedding. I am very close to that tipping point of living out of the state of Michigan longer than I lived in the state of Michigan. But I have many, many relatives that still call Michigan home. Apparently, unless you have the nomadic gene that I was born with, Michigan is a place that many never want to leave! And because of my extra-large clan, I always have a blast when I visit. My flight took me from San Francisco to Detroit before reaching my final destination – Traverse City. I was actually pretty excited about my dining options in Detroit – I mean…as excited as anyone can get about airport food, anyway. Though the Detroit airport’s rating keeps going down every year, it is still ranked as one of the most veg-friendly airports in the U.S. I went online and checked out my options which included rave reviews about Mediterranean Grill’s Fattoush salad and vegetarian grape leaves & hummus pita wrap. There were also a couple honorable mentions for the vegetarian sandwich at Earl of Sandwich and the hummus vegetable wrap at National Coney Island Express. I figured I was covered so didn’t give it anymore thought! My flight left San Francisco at 7 a.m. and I had every intention of sleeping all the way to Michigan. Instead, I met the nicest guy Mo and we talked and talked the entire flight. It really made the four hour flight “fly” by! I landed in Terminal A and having a pretty small window to freshen up, get food and get to my next flight in Terminal B, I headed off for Mediterranean Grill. As I drew closer, I started to get a little suspicious because in just about the same spot I expected to see the Grill, I noticed many rows of seats. I popped over to a directory, found the You Are Here star and noticed that the Mediterranean Grill was blacked out and really had been replaced by…chairs! By now, I am REALLY hungry. Between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Delta Airlines offers ZERO vegan breakfast, lunch or dinner options. And the calories from the couple granola bars I brought with me had LONG since burned off! My back-up plan was a really bad back-up plan because Coney Island Express and Earl of Sandwich were both at Gate D while I was very much still in Gate A and running out of time. I grabbed my stuff and headed toward my connecting flight just hoping that I would find something vegan-friendly on the way. Just as I was making the turn toward my Gate, I noticed an Einstein Bros. Bagels. When I lived in Boulder Colorado over 16 years ago, that used to be one of my favorite spots to stop for a bagel sandwich. The bagels were freshly baked, the ingredients were always tasty and the staff was hilarious. Knowing that it had been 16 years and Einstein Bros. had also become a national chain featured in an airport, I didn’t expect perfection and was quite frankly out of time to care. There were NO vegetarian options so I ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and jelly hoping the bagels were at least vegan-friendly. It was a huge disappointment – tiny bagel, not very fresh and the peanut butter and jelly both contained corn syrup and other frightening ingredients. But the bagel was warm and I knew I would not make it until I got to Traverse City! I left the PB&J packets for someone else to enjoy and gobbled up my bagel! Mental note – next flight through Detroit – pack myself a more sustainable lunch or make sure I have enough time in between flights to find my way to the veg-friendly restaurants!

Leave it to Detroit to add a subway inside their airport. Love it!
Leave it to Detroit to add a subway inside their airport. Love it!

I have lived in Northern California for three and a half years and have gotten to the point where I am not shocked or surprised anymore when I run into a celebrity or two along the way. Well, I do have to admit that chatting with Garrett Dillahunt was the absolute highlight of my week when I met him at the Napa Valley Film Festival. And I might still be grinning like a fool since I got to hug Mr. Big after a stage performance in Yountville. Other than that, I am just as cool as a cucumber, obviously. But running into a celebrity at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan? The city is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, but celebrities? Well, that is definitely a bit of a surprise. As I wandered through the airport looking for my limo service – AKA my sister Christy and her bright blue, sporty Ford Focus – I noticed Carter Oosterhouse. For those of you who aren’t DIY fans, Carter Oosterhouse started out as the way too gorgeous carpenter on TLC’s reality program Trading Spaces. I loved the show especially because of the adorable host Page Davis. The program ran eight seasons from 2000-2008 and also launched the career of Ty Pennington – the original carpenter!  As I met up with my sister Christy and excitedly told her about my celebrity sighting, she reminded me that Carter grew up in TC and now owns a local winery with his brother. She was definitely not as excited as I was. Okay. Fine!

Cherry Capitol Airport has it's own Stand Up Paddleboard!
Cherry Capitol Airport has it’s own Stand Up Paddleboard!

By the time I landed in TC and was ready to hit the road for our hour long drive north to Charlevoix, I had been on the go for over seven hours. And almost sensing my dining troubles, Christy had stopped at my favorite vegan-friendly spot in TC to get me some vegan appropriate sustenance! Oryana Natural Foods Market is located at 260 East Tenth Street and has offered the area a community cooperative since 1973. Which I love, of course. But even more than that, I love all of the organic, vegan-friendly options they offer in their diner, juice bar, bakery, hot bar and market. It is food nirvana for me! Though I didn’t spend much time in Traverse City after the wedding, I made sure I visited Oryana a couple times to stock up. I devoured their handmade vegan black bean burrito on the way to Charlevoix. I also got to enjoy their cashew brown rice and peanut curry tofu from the hot bar. And on my way to a family pizza feast, I stopped in and found a delicious vegan pasty with an amazing crisp pastry shell and stuffed with potatoes, carrots and rutabaga. Delicious!

Outside dining at Oryana
Outside dining at Oryana

Oryana logo

For most of you, raising money while you were in school probably brings back memories of selling cookies & rice krispie treats. For us Yoopers, we raised money by selling pasties. Freshly baked and stuffed full of meat and vegetables before being lovingly wrapped with tin foil and sold to the masses! Though pasties date back to as early as the 1300s, they are often linked back to Cornwall, England. Beginning in the 1600s, the tin miners adopted it because it was a complete meal that could be easily carried and eaten without cutlery. The folded pastry kept the filling warm for hours in the mine but could also be easily warmed up on a shovel over a candle. As tin mining began to decline, the migrating Cornish miners, spread the pasties worldwide. Because of the U.P.’s Copper Country copper mines, pasties became a huge part of our culture. Tourists come from all over to enjoy the Upper Peninsula’s pasties. They have become so popular, that Calumet, Michigan throws a Pasty Fest every year in late June! I hadn’t had a pasty in decades and certainly not since becoming vegan, so it was a lovely surprise full of wonderful memories!

We Yoopers love our pasties!
We Yoopers love our pasties!

My sister Keegan was born and raised in Traverse City and even though she now lives in Brooklyn, NY and works as a freelance carpenter and welder on various theater and stage projects, Northern Michigan is where she wanted to return to celebrate her wedding! She and her husband Doss found Castle Farms and knew that was the place for them to celebrate their love. Castle Farms is located in charming Charlevoix about an hour north of Traverse City. Charlevoix sits between majestic Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.

Welcome to Charlevoix!
Welcome to Charlevoix!
The view of Lake Charlevoix from our rental home!
The view of Lake Charlevoix from our rental home!

Castle Farms French Renaissance-style castle was built in 1918 and is full of old-world charm. It is not only a celebrated wedding venue in Northern Michigan but is also an historical attraction that is listed on both the National and State Historic Registries. Between the amazingness of the castle structures and the truly magnificent grounds and gardens, it is one absolutely beautiful place. Castle Farms already held amazing memories for me even prior to the wedding because it was a huge concert venue when I was a teenager in the 80s. I saw Rick Springfield and Billy Idol perform there. Along with bands like Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, PowerStation and OMD. Wow, did I have fun at Castle Farms. Over the years it became dilapidated and rundown, until it was purchased in 2005 and completely restored. It was an amazing ceremony and reception. And though I was not able to enjoy the delicious looking wedding cake, my sis Christy baked me a luscious vegan mini-chocolate cake so I could  also enjoy the experience. The caterers – Grey Gables Restaurant and Catering – prepared me a delicious vegan entrée of quinoa and asparagus, green beans and roasted potatoes. I was really pleased and definitely did not go hungry!

Mrs. Doss and Mr. Keegan's first dance!
Mrs. Doss and Mr. Keegan’s first dance!
My sister Christy, my Mom Kit, my sister Kodie and me. Ready for the festivities to begin!
My sister Christy, my Mom Kit, my sister Kodie and me. Ready for the festivities to begin!
Castle Farms!
Castle Farms!

Click to view a video of beautiful Castle Farms

The charming town of Charlevoix and the neighboring town of Petoskey, also have many vegan-friendly restaurants. City Park Grill has separate vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus. And since all meals are “made from scratch” they are happy to “veganize” anything on their menu. I enjoyed a delicious grilled Portobello mushroom on wild rice pilaf and vegetables. It was just amazing! They also offer a nice menu of micro brews and Michigan craft bottled beer. I had a delicious panini sandwich at Scovie’s Gourmet in downtown Charlevoix – the Grilled Tree Hugger (love the name) was piled with grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, roasted red peppers, carrots, sweet onions and animal-product free pesto. Though I ran out of time to try all the restaurants I wanted to, if you are looking for a finer dining experience The Weathervane Restaurant offers several vegan entrees. If you are in the mood for Thai food, Asian Fusion is the place to go! After 4 nights of too little sleep and too much fun, the family caravan headed back to Traverse City. I mentioned earlier that I have lived away from Michigan now for almost as long as I lived there (and for the first 16 years I also did not know how to drive!) so Christy took me on the scenic tour back to TC. We stopped by Elk Rapids to explore its cute little downtown area and found Java Jones. Java Jones is a large, eclectic coffee shop that brews Ferris Coffee. Ferris Coffee was founded in Grand Rapids in 1924 and has been passionate about roasting superior coffee ever since. They believe in the need for sustainability in the specialty coffee industry and the importance of understanding the needs and production costs of the coffee producers they work with. They support direct trade and do so by visiting farms and working with the producers so they can build relationships that last for years. Java Jones offers vegan soups daily and has almond and soy milk for vegan lattes. Since getting my own espresso machine a couple years ago, I buy lattes less and less. Java Jones, however, was a stop I’m glad I made!

City Park Grill's Grilled Portobello on Wild Rice Pilaf
City Park Grill’s Grilled Portobello on Wild Rice Pilaf
Yay!
Yay! And local cider on tap too!
Scovie's Gourmet Grilled Tree Hugger panini
Scovie’s Gourmet Grilled Tree Hugger Panini

Scovie's menu

My Sis and I hug wrestling the famous Elk Rapids green bear!
My Sis and I hug wrestling the famous Elk Rapids green bear!

JJ2

My flight back to San Francisco did not leave Traverse City until 5:30 p.m. so I had all day to continue playing and see my very best friend Kris from my high school days. Christy and I spent a lazy morning on her huge oversized patio overlooking the Platte River while I breathed in my most favorite olfactory memory – the hardy and beautiful lilac flowers and watched dozens of robin red breasts try to literally eat every earthworm in my sister’s yard. Then the three of us girls headed about 10 miles straight west to gorgeous Frankfort. I am embarrassed to say that I never visited this adorable little town once while I lived in Northern Michigan. It is such a lovely little town with the main street lined with restaurants, bakeries and shops. The street dead ends right at the Frankfort Beach and Pier on Lake Michigan. It was truly so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. Absolutely stunning!

Dazzling Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Pier
Dazzling Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Pier

After playing in the sand and dipping my toes in the icy waters, we headed back for some lunch. StormCloud Brewing Company’s menu impressed me immediately. At the top of their menu just below their flatbread pizza, read “Vegan cheese and Gluten-free crust available upon request”! Yahoo! I asked our server to “veganize” the Roasted Root pizza, add the daiya cheese and bring me a hard cider crafted by local brewer Left Foot Charley! Another perfect Northern Michigan meal! With over half of the 10 inch flatbread pizza leftover, I also had dinner for my journey home. Excellent!!!

Vegan Roasted Root Pizza
Vegan Roasted Root Pizza

I spent most of my childhood dreaming about living somewhere, anywhere other than Northern Michigan. It has literally taken decades of me living in other parts of the country to truly appreciate this beautiful place that I used to call home. My fellow vegan travelers, this is a beautiful and amazing place to visit. Don’t let any more time go by; you need to experience the Great Lakes and the beauty of Northern Michigan. And the great news is that there are so many restaurants that are vegan-friendly. I know I will be heading back soon. I hope to see you there!!

Thanks for joining me on my week long Michigan adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

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