An AirBnb Experience at Rolling Hilltop Way in Williamsburg, Michigan

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While living in Europe, Jason and I traveled around a lot and always opted to rent apartments on Airbnb rather than hotel rooms to better experience a slice of local life. Some of the apartments we’ve stayed in were quite basic when we were on a tight budget, but most often we would choose something really nice knowing we were still spending less than we would have on even a modest hotel room.  In Paris we rented a tiny but cozy flat in the city’s narrowest building; in Rome we had a gorgeous, sunny 15th century apartment with timbered ceilings; in Strasbourg we had a roomy one bedroom with a terrace just outside the city center.

Now that we are back in the states we still use Airbnb to book apartments when we travel, and my friends at Airbnb asked if I would like to write about my most recent stay. Last month we stayed a few days in Traverse City and booked a condo that we’ve rented previously, one that feels so much more like a home than a rental with charming seaside decor and a fully furnished kitchen including coffee, teas, spices and all the little things which are easily forgotten. The terrace overlooks a golf course and it even has a smart tv for those who need their Netflix fix in the evening.
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AirBnb Condo1_acookscanvas-copyright2012-2017_88Our host, Alexis provides a list of recommendations for sightseeing, local restaurants, wineries, and breweries with insights into what might interest us in particular. We spent the day driving up the peninsula to visit a lighthouse; on our way back we stopped at a few wineries and snapped photos along the shoreline. In the evening we dined at The Franklin for local beers and craft cocktails before heading back to the condo for some rest before starting another day of exploring.
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We always have a nice time at Alexis’s place and are already planning another short trip later in the fall. This time we will be picking apples, shooting fall colors, and look forward to a cozy evening enjoying a bottle of red wine in front of the fireplace.

You can book your next stay in Traverse City with Alexis here.

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Aerie Restaurant at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan

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Situated atop the tallest building in the Traverse City area, Aerie offers a fantastic view of Grand Traverse bay and an elite dining experience to match. The name Aerie refers to an eagle’s nest, and true to its name, the rooftop offers a high perch attracting eagles and hawks who occasionally swoop by in a flash of shadow.

As we are led to our table, its hard not to be distracted by the view as we take our seats. Our server Michael walks us through the menu with an easy charm and formal yet relaxed confidence reflective of his three decades at Aerie. As we marvel at the view he shares some history of the restaurant and the surrounding area and explains that it is the great depths of the bay that moderates the weather on the hottest days of summer and softens the blow of midwestern winters.

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As we dine the sun starts to set across the bay, and through the great expanse of glass the room fills with a golden pink glow. Up here at the 45th parallel, once the sun touches the horizon it will disappear completely in 3 minutes 12 seconds, and Aerie is a very special place to watch it set.

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Earlier in the day I had the pleasure of sitting down with Executive Chef Steffes and Chef Petrick to talk about their approach to food at Aerie and the fresh, seasonal menu, so I was excited to sit down and enjoy a meal. They had selected an excellent pairing red and white wines to compliment our meal choices; a 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir from Black Star, and a 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay from Chateau Chantel.

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To begin the meal, we are presented with a warm loaf of crusty bread with tender garlic cloves throughout, alongside oil for dipping and soft butter. We sample but try not to fill up, although the savory garlic makes it hard to resist.

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Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomato, burrata, balsamic reduction, basil puree, garlic chips, fried basil
paired with Chateau Chantel 2014 Chardonnay Proprietor’s Reserve

A classic combination of my favorite summer ingredients; large yet delicate slabs of juicy heirloom tomatoes, their rich and meaty flavors enhanced by tangy balsamic reduction, alongside creamy burrata and a sunny basil puree. Crispy garlic chips and fried basil bring a welcome textural contrast. A simple and delightful start to a meal.

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Braised short rib
Braised short rib, sautéed cabbage, miso soy grilled carrots, housemade sambal oelek, crispy garlic paired with Black Star 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir

Meltingly tender braising and a delicately charred caramelized finish bring out the intense beef flavor; a bed of deliciously sautéed cabbage with garlic and spring onions enhance the richness of the short rib. The grilled, miso glazed carrots are wonderfully rich with earthy sweetness, and together with the delightful sambal add an unexpected but wonderful punch of umami.

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Salmon panzanella
Seared Faroe island salmon, crispy bread, pickled red onion, cherry tomato, cherry peppers, pickled red jalapeno, fresh celery, balsamic reduction, basil puree paired with Chateau Chantel 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay

Tender salmon with a perfectly crisp texture and finished with lemon zest atop a sweet/savory combination of summer vegetables. A summery dish with cubes of crusty bread, a drizzle of balsamic reduction, basil puree. An excellent choice for a light dinner and flown in fresh several times per week, the salmon paired perfectly with the Chateau Chantel chardonnay.

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Cioppino

Fresh mussels, bay scallops, lump crab, prawns and lobster cooked in a saffron tomato broth with pickled chile pepper puree, roasted yellow cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, basil oil, grilled baguette paired with Black Star 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir

I love a perfectly seasoned cioppino, and this is excellently prepared in a deeply satisfying red saffron tomato broth. Pickled chile puree and roasted cherry tomatoes dressed with basil oil and a crusty slice of grilled bread perfect for sopping up the marvelous broth. A deliciously filling dish made even more delightful with the selected Pinot Noir.

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Whether or not you’re staying at the Grand Traverse resort, the incredible views and equally captivating menu executed by Chefs Steffes and Petrick will not disappoint!  Recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for 2017 and an OpenTable Diner’s Choice award 2017, Aerie is an excellent choice for a dinner reservation.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan

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It’s no secret that I love visiting the Traverse City area. From May-October this area of northern Michigan becomes an irresistible attraction with wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, resorts, golf courses, farmer’s markets, apple orchards, creameries, stables, marinas, antique shops, boutiques, lighthouses, and even a casino.

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There is literally something here for everyone, but culinary travelers in particular will find an endless string of tasting experiences and innovative cuisine. Having lived in the Chicago area for almost 20 years it’s easy to take for granted what visitors from other states find so breathtaking; the oceanic scale of Lake Michigan, to which the lakeshore up here with miles of scenic shoreline and lighthouses lend a salty Atlantic feel that’s still only a few hour’s drive outside of Chicago.

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I try to make it up here at least twice each year, and always seek to experience a different aspect of what this area has to offer; this Summer I was invited to visit the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa to try out the amenities and to dine at Traverse City’s highest fine dining restaurant to sample the new menu at Aerie.

Our comfortable room was on the 11th floor of the hotel tower with sweeping views overlooking the 900 acre resort and the spectacular Grand Traverse bay. The wonderful hotel staff demonstrate an impressive attention to detail; from evening turn-down service with chocolates, to a late-night emergency corkscrew delivery at a moment’s notice, they swoop in effortlessly to save the day and never fail to make you feel welcome.

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In addition to the world class golf course with its clubhouse and pro shop, for year-round guests the resort has extensive indoor and outdoor fitness facilities including tennis courts, a spa with massage and facial services, two indoor swimming pools, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool for lounging complete with a cocktail bar. 

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Inside you will find a coffee shop with fresh baked goods straight out of the Aerie kitchen, a breakfast cafe with plated as well as buffet options, Dylan’s Candy Bar for little ones (and those of us with a sweet tooth!), a sports bar, outdoor gear and clothing boutiques, gift shops, and of course Aerie, the resort’s crowning jewel which I will be sharing with you in the next write-up. GrandTraverseResortandSpa7_acookscanvas-copyright2012-2017_85

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Kir Impérial Cocktail

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Bastille day is France’s national holiday commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. The French refer to it as la Fête Nationale, a national celebration of the event, which marked the turning point in the French Revolution. At celebrations held throughout France, revelers will raise a glass to toast the unity of the French people; many of those glasses bearing a variation of the Kir cocktail.

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The original Kir dating back to the late 1800’s consists of white Burgundy wine flavored with crème de cassis, and was referred to simply as a blanc-cassis. In the years immediately following WWII it was a favorite of Félix Kir, a parish priest who joined the resistance during the war, and helped 5,000 prisoners escape a prison camp at Longvic. After the war he was made mayor of Dijon, often serving this cocktail to visiting dignitaries and delegations.

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Over the years the recipe has been modified by substituting the white wine with Champagne, creating the Kir Royale; swapping out the cassis liquor in favor of Chambord makes a Kir Impérial. This most decadent iteration improves on the original by adding the tart, bright, floral qualities of raspberries to offset the overall sweetness of the drink.

I decided to pair my Kir Impérial with a smoked salmon, cream cheese, tart pickled red onions and fresh chives.

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Kir Impérial
1 serving

1 oz. Chambord
3 oz. Champagne (I prefer Piper-Heidsieck Brut)

Pour Chambord into a nicely chilled glass and top with Champagne. Et voila! Santé!

 

Smoked salmon with cream cheese, pickled red onions and chives
4 servings

Ingredients
4 slices of smoked salmon (sliced in thirds), I prefer Echo Falls
12 Divina toast points, imported from France (located in your cheese department)
Cream cheese
Pickled red onions, minced (see recipe here)
Fresh chives
Freshly cracked black pepper

Place toasts on a platter. Take four slices of the smoked salmon and slice them into thirds. Place a dollop of cream cheese or crème frâiche onto the toast and fold a slice of the salmon on top. Thinly mince a few slices of pickled red onions and place them on top along with the freshly chopped chives.

Serve immediately alongside a Kir Impérial!

Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

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Fresh figs are only available for a short time so when I saw them in the supermarket the other day, I quickly sorted through them, choosing the ripest unblemished figs I could find, then turned to Jason and said “we need cheese and prosciutto!”

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I spent a few minutes at the cheese case gently squeezing and sniffing wedges of this and that, but mainly focusing on rich, triple-cream bries and the ripe, blue-veined cheeses I knew would be salty and assertive enough to balance out honey-sweetened figs and the salty richness of prosciutto. At last I selected a tender, generous wedge of Bavarian cambozola, then with a bundle of freshly-sliced prosciutto in hand I made my way home to my kitchen.

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To prep the figs I remove the stems, and slice an “X” about halfway down through, then opened them gently to reveal the vibrant red-hued flesh. I carefully packed each one with crumbled cheese, a floret of folded prosciutto, a drizzle of raw honey, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.


Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

Ingredients
6 fresh figs
3 slices of prosciutto (sliced in half)
Crumbled blue-veined cheese
Drizzle of honey
Fresh thyme

Grilled Ribeye Steak with Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter

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I first learned about compound butters while living in Germany. Compound butters are simply butter to which herbs, spices, etc. are added, rolled into a log shape, and chilled until needed to top fresh breads, baked potatoes, steaks, salmon, etc. While prepared compound butters are not so easy to find in American supermarkets, Europeans can easily find them one can find them in most grocery stores, right alongside regular butter.

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Our favorite flavors included paprika-kräuter (red pepper & herb), frühlings kräuter (spring herb) and knoblauch (garlic). They come in small cubes ready to use, but I soon started experimenting with making my own compound butters, to create flavor combinations the store brands didn’t offer. One of my favorite recipes included charred scallions with lemon zest; these two flavors marry nicely and are perfect on a grilled ribeye.

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Grilling steaks can be intimidating; steaks aren’t cheap and cooking over open flames can seem like an uncontrolled process, but if you take some time to familiarize yourself with the proper temperatures and textures to look for, it will quickly become second nature. There are few things as satisfying as serving up a perfectly grilled slab of steak, and your friends and family will certainly remember the effort.

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I look for a 10-16oz. ribeyes, about 3/4” thick, then season generously on both sides and let it come up to room temperature while the grill heats up, sear for 5 minutes on both sides for medium rare, 7 minutes for medium-well, and tent with tinfoil to let the juices reabsorb before serving.

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Grilled Ribeye with Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter
Yields: two servings

Grilled Steak
2 ribeye steaks (~3/4-1lb. each)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter
2 large bunches of scallions
1 stick of butter (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 lemon juice + zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Instructions
Prepare the compound butter a day in advance. Wash scallions and dry with paper towels. Place scallions on a platter and drizzle with olive, tossing to coat. Add salt and pepper and set aside. Grill scallions for 4 minutes on each side or until charred. Set aside.

Cream the butter and set aside. Zest lemon, making sure to only zest the bright yellow of the outside. Cut the lemon in half and juice 2 TBSP of the juice and add it along with the zest to the butter. Thinly slice the charred scallions and add to the citrus butter mixture. Blend together and add the butter to plastic wrap and roll into a log. Refrigerate for 6 hrs or overnight.

Pat the steaks dry and season well on both sides with sea salt and cracked black pepper, allow to rest at room temperature while grill preheats to 450’F. Grill for 5 minutes each side, tent with foil and rest for 10 minutes. Just before serving, top each steak with a coin of compound butter.

Lagunitas Brewery and Taproom in Chicago, Illinois

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The Lagunitas name is legendary among beer aficionados, and since 2014 the Chicago brewery and taproom have been thrilling locals and tourists alike with world-class beers made right here in the city, served up alongside some of the most spectacular pub grub in Chicago. The brewery is located on the near west side in a warehouse district among film studios in North Lawndale.

Entering the parking lot a large mural informs me that I have indeed arrived at the Lagunitas Brewing Company, 2607 W 17th Street, Chicago ILL, USA – Earth, Sol, Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Super Cluster, Space. Upon entering I am whisked away from my urban surroundings through a Wonka-esque corridor lit by a celestial murals and a dancing laser light that takes me on a journey beyond pure imagination to a land of malted barley and smiles by the barrel. At the end of the corridor a mosaic of a pinup girl holding a mug of beer directs me up a flight of stairs to a hall that lead me past banks of windows overlooking a staging area where beach umbrellas, an arcade racing game, an array of sofas and chairs stand ready to accommodate tour groups as they await their turn to tour the brewery, then sweeping views of the brewery floor.

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The taproom itself features a large wraparound bar with comfy stools, and rows of Oktoberfest-style picnic tables. I took a seat at the bar and in a minute or two Chef Bob Chamberlain came in to greet me. After walking me through the specials menu he went back to the kitchen and emerged a few minutes later with the first of a series of dishes, each paired wonderfully with fantastic beers.

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Beet Salad Red and yellow beets, arugula, Israeli couscous, toasted almonds, manchego cheese, red onions & Born Again Yesterday mango vinaigrette, paired with Born Again Yesterday pale ale.

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Salumi platter with spent grain crackers, a cheese washed in whiskey barrel aged imperial stout, Wisconsin Gran Canaria’s sheep-goat-cow’s milk cheese, Manchego, housemade jerky, Serrano ham, beet jam with salumi from West Loop Salumi, paired with 12th of Never ale.

Beer Mussels PEI Mussels steamed with Lagunitas Sucks, with celery, carrots and blue cheese in a buffalo sauce, paired with Lagunitas Sucks ale.

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Bacon Wrapped Scallops Pan-fried jumbo scallops served with purple mashed potatoes, seaweed salad and mango habanero jam, paired with Lagunitas IPA.
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Dark Stout Brownie made with spent grains, roasted malt, and vanilla bean ice cream and caramel, paired with Lagunitas dark stout.
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Having concluded my tour I can admit, I had half expected to see a massive factory coldly cranking out product but was instead greeted by a friendly team of passionate people cheerfully crafting excellent beers and entertaining guests with great food in a fun, inviting atmosphere. Lagunitas Chicago Brewery and Taproom is a great place to spend an evening and well worth the short trip from downtown.

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