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Michigan

A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I had the privilege of hosting five college students in Three Rivers over spring break. One of the highlights of our time was being able to cook together every evening at The Hermitage, where we stayed for most of the week.

On our first day, we planned our menu and went shopping. First stop: Miller's Discount, an Amish grocery store out in the country near Centreville, Michigan. Miller's, entirely non-electric with propane-powered lamps and refrigeration, carries bulk dry goods, canned foods, lots of candy, and several refrigerated items like cheese and ice cream. We purchased what we could there and then, for the sake of contrast, headed to Meijer to get the rest of our items.

Our menu for the week was pretty simple, yet amazing. Here's a summary:


  • SATURDAY DINNER: Mabodofu, an Asian stir fry made by Johnathan who's spent a lot of time in southeast Asia

  • SUNDAY LUNCH: Chocolate chili from Marian's all-chocolate cookbook and made with fair trade chocolate from World Fare

  • SUNDAY DINNER: Potato Leek Soup for an Irish-themed potluck with the local sustainable food group (Our soup was joined by soda bread with homemade jams and butters, several stews with local beef, Guinness bread and several other delights.)

  • MONDAY DINNER: White Bean Spinach Pasta, Curried Carrot Soup made with milk from a local cow and overwintered carrots we helped dig that afternoon at White Yarrow Farm

  • TUESDAY DINNER: Moosewood calzones with two fillings (eggplant and spinach), that somehow expanded to also include pizza and pasta

  • WEDNESDAY DINNER: Veggie Kapow (vegetables in foil packages) with a selection of Asian, Italian and Indian seasoning cooked over an outdoor fire

  • THURSDAY DINNER: An amazing Korean meal prepared for us by Julie, who does small catering jobs on the side and lived in Korea for a year and a half

  • FRIDAY DINNER: Yam curry with rice and potato cakes

  • SATURDAY DINNER: Shrimp scampi, mushroom pasta and roasted broccoli graciously prepared for us by Barb, who wanted to serve those who served all week in the community.


We also ate homemade granola, oatmeal and scones for breakfasts, and had a steady supply of David's homemade breads throughout the week.

Instead of cooking a variety of perfunctory meals designed to be quick and cheap, meal times turned into extended communal rituals--from the shopping to the cooking to the eating to the cleaning up--that provided a perfect backdrop for reflection on our experiences and stories. Who says college students have to eat Ramen and pizza all the time? What made it possible:


  • having a decent budget for food (total came to about $7 per person/day)

  • cultivating a collaborative spirit with willingly helpful participants

  • having open-ended time and space for cooking and eating

  • commitment to flexibility for vegan and vegetarian diets

  • willingness to improvise on short notice

  • access to a well-stocked kitchen

  • knowing the area well enough to be able to access local foods


See more details about the Three Rivers spring break trip at the Imagining Space blog under the March 2010 posts.

The Eat Well Food Tour is back in local mode for now, as Rob and I are in Michigan catching up on things after two intense weeks on the road. We're in the process of getting Michigan and Ontario dates on the calendar and will post new events as soon as they're confirmed. In the meantime, enjoy the delights of the summer harvest. It's blueberry season here!

On Monday, I talked on the phone with a reporter from the Grand Rapids Press about the food tour and she asked what we'd be doing about the dreaded road food dilemma, especially on a tour about food. Attempting to balance idealism and realism in my answer, I said that if we hadn't packed our own food, we'd at least try to stop at a locally-owned business, rather than a chain, to support the local economies of the places we were passing through.

Well, Tuesday was our first chance to test that practice. We had to stop in Three Rivers on our way to our first food tour stop in Demotte, Indiana. Even though we live in Grand Rapids currently, we still have many responsibilities and ties in Three Rivers--including a fair trade store that we helped found and a budding building project for *culture is not optional. We ended up in Three Rivers in 2002 because my family has had a cottage there since the 70s and we plan to move back there in about a year. With three hours to do everything we needed to get done before leaving Michigan for two weeks, we were flying around town with no time to stop for lunch. Finally on the road to Demotte, we resisted the temptation to just stop at Wendy's (cheap, fast and predictable) and stopped instead at Tastee Twirl on Stone Lake in Cassopolis, Michigan.

tastee-twirl.jpg

We've passed Tastee Twirl dozens and maybe hundreds of times on the route between the family cottage in Three Rivers and our hometowns in the south suburbs of Chicago, but I hadn't been there since I was very young. In fact, just being in the building, memories came flooding back of being there with my great grandma, which must have been when I was just three years old. Even after more than 25 years, the space looked exactly the way I remembered and I think I could even point out our table. It's amazing how eating in a place one time with loved people can embed a memory so deeply, as though it becomes a part of you through the food you take in.

The food was, well...what you'd expect from a roadside diner called Tastee Twirl. Bonus points go to the restaurant for using paper cups instead of styrofoam for their shakes and to the woman behind the counter for asking us if we'd like lids and a plastic bag, which helped cut down on trash, though I'm not sure that was their intent. But we definitely lost points for not bringing in the lidded Pyrex container we keep in our trunk and asking them to put our sandwiches in there instead of giant styrofoam boxes. It would have been a small action in the grand scheme of styrofoam hysteria, but every small action has a ripple effect, right? That's something the lake right next to Tastee Twirl should have reminded us of. I'm sure we'll have a chance to redeem ourselves soon.