Backseat Gourmet Series Continues….Did You Know Michigan Tasted So Good?

Here is how the conversation went:

Conor: “Hey Sara, how are you?”

Me: “Im cool, how are you?”

Conor: “I’m good. Do you want to come up to my parent’s beach house on….”

Me: (Excitedly & rudely interrupting) “Hell yes!  Whats the address?  And, are you near a farmers market?”

And so my back seat got packed up once again with my well loved hippie style back pack, a large bag  full of snacks (in the front seat) & several pages of directions thanks to Google maps.  And Conor’s beach house on Lake Michigan was not only near a farmers market it was surrounded by farms.  Acres and acres of apple and pear orchards, dairy farms and corn fields; nature at its finest.

The first morning there we awoke and hit the trail for a hearty 40 mile bike ride on an old railway turned bike path.  Our half way point was a dairy farm and restaurant called Country Dairy & Farm Store in New Era, MI.  The perfect place to re-fuel because with any food purchase you get a free bottomless glass of milk….there’s even a self serve dispenser!

Country Dairy & Farm Store…..they have bottomless glasses of fresh milk!!!

“Think you can handle the Brutus?”  Well with a taunting question like that I’m sure many try, I however still had 20 more miles to ride and wrestling with a 1/2 lb of beef topped with 2 kinds of pork and 3 kinds of cheese didn’t quite sound like it would sit nicely.  But Conor thought it would.

The Brutus Burger. Think you can handle it? 1/2 lbs beef, bacon, ham, cheddar, monterey and pepper jack cheeses.

The morning after an intense country bike ride one feels devoid of all calories & I personally feel the strong desire to consume everything that isn’t nailed down.  So thats pretty much exactly what I did, but consciously of course.  It was a delightful brunch, complete with a homemade gluten free oatmeal raisin muffin and cup of coffee – black.  Yes everything in that picture is all for me and truth be told I could’ve eaten more but I needed to save room for that nights dinner and dessert.  Especially dessert…who wants peach crisp spiked with cognac?

Ohio eggs, green beans, tomatoes and melon, homemade muffins, healthy avocado fats and a nice hot cup of black coffee. BLISS!

That evening Conor and I took a quick drive to get some provisions from a local farm stand.  I didn’t have a concrete plan in mind, more like a “cook what looks good” kind of plan.  And bless my eyes those Michigan peaches were ripe and ready and I seemed to recall an open bottle of booze that those peaches could go for a little swim in.

Putting it all together…don’t worry, the booze is in there, you just can’t see it.

This peach crisp is so simple and requires no cooking ability whatsoever.  And frankly if I wasn’t going to blog about it I wouldn’t have measured a thing.  The outcome is a crusty, crumbly, gooey, tangy dessert that will please everyone who takes a bite.  Good luck waiting for it to cool before you eat it…its almost worth the scalded tongue, correction, its definitely worth the scalded tongue.

The gooey, sticky, crusty final product. Ooohhh yeahhhh….

I realize that in most parts of the US peach season has just ended and my apologies for a late peach dessert, however this can also be made with apples which are beginning to flow in with abundance.


Michigan Peach Crisp with Cognac


6-8 ripe, but slightly firm peaches, sliced medium

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tblsp flour ( I prefer spelt)

1/3 cup cognac


1 cup oats

1 tblsp flour (again with the spelt)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tblsp brown sugar

1/2 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces

Pre-heat oven to 350 degree fahrenheit.  In a medium bowl combine peaches through flour and toss to coat.  Add cognac and combine gently.  Spray a 9×9 baking pan with non stick cooking spray or rub with butter.  Pour peach mixture into dish.

In a medium bowl combine oats through sugar.  Add butter cutting cross wise with 2 knives to break it into small pieces.  Pour oat mixture over peaches spreading evenly.

Bake for 25-35 minutes until oats are browned and peaches are soft.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.  This is killer with some whole milk vanilla ice cream…let it get melty on your dish..and then lick it up!


The Backseat Gourmet-Roadtrip Through The N.E. 7 States in 7 Days!- Part 2 of 2

Oh Vermont.  If you have not been to this tiny state yet, GO!  Its gorgeous and green and they have bottles & bottles of maple syrup!  And if thats not enough to sell you, the Ben & Jerry’s factory is a short driving distance from the Cabot cheese factory.  So pack your Lactaid folks, lets get in the car and go East!

My family and I stopped at a small road side shop called Stowe Maple Products that sold pure Vermont maple syrup and other mapley delicious delights.  The owner was on hand to give us samples and educate me with my 14,000 questions.  What I learned & found to be quite helpful: Maple syrup is like a narcotic.

Besides that:

  • Grade A Maple Syrup has a light, medium and dark variety.  What makes their color differ is from the time they were harvested.
  • The harvesting season is only about 4-5 weeks, the earlier its harvested the lighter it is in color.
  • Grade B Maple Syrup is harvested very late in the season and is best used in baking or cooking as it has a hardier and more robust flavor.  While the Grade A variety is best used for drowing your pancakes (and yourself) in.
  • The nutrient content in Grade A and Grade B are the same.

Grade A fancy Vermont Maple Syrup…..its like a drug.

Mini Recipe:

Maple Mustard Salad Dressing

Whisk together 1 tsp dijon mustard, a heavy splash of apple cider vinegar and 2 tblsp maple syrup.  Whisk in 2 tblsp olive oil.  Add a pinch of sea salt & pepper. Toss over a fresh spinach salad with blueberries and thinly sliced red onion.

Our next stop the Ben & Jerry’s Factory.  Of course we HAD to take the tour, however campy & brief, it was quite educational and with the promise of an exclusive flavor sample (strawberry with white chocolate chunks) one would gladly wait in a tourist shop with walls painted like a the posterior of a black and white cow.  Post tour we move on to the ice cream store.  Still full from my early morning shots of maple syrup I decide how many scoops (thats right plural) I should order.  I go with a scoop of my all time fave Chunky Monkey and a scoop of the 7 Layer Coconut.  A genius tropical pairing!  You can take the girl out of the island but you can’t take the ……..

The difficult decision…..chunky monkey & 7 layer coconut bar. Divine!

This place is like Disney World of the north.  Who wouldn’t want to take a photo in this thing?!  Our flavor…….Szunyogh-Murphy Swirl.  A creamy vanilla base , with Hungarian paprika, coconut flakes and and Irish Creme Swirl.  What’s your family flavor??

We were definitely feeling euphoric after our ice cream!

With our blood sugars at full throttle we speed onto Maine and hit up a tucked away lobster shack right on the water.     Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Company in South Freeport, Maine  is THE  place to get your whole lobster lunches and lobster rolls.  They have been featured on Rachel Ray and were voted one of the top 10 lobster shacks in Maine.  Fishing boats lazily bobbing and birds searching for fall out accompany us on our lobster eating adventure. The vibe is laid back and with no silverware given (the way I like it!)  we dig into this seaside bounty.

Tasty lil out-of-the-way lobster shack right on the water.

Before this trip I had never eaten a lobster roll in my life.  And truth be told this was actually the main reason I packed my bags & left my house.  A lobster roll aficionado and friend said “Don’t even bother unless the bun is toasted!”  And indeed this was.  A toasty roll, layered with lettuce and as you can see, very large, succulent pieces of lobster bathed in a light mayo dressing.  As you can imagine this was well worth leaving the house for!

Missions eat a lobster roll complete!!

This guys life was not taken in vain, oh no, every bit of him was enjoyed.  And never mind the butter dripping down my chin onto my t-shirt, it can stay there….I’m going in for more.

Dig in, no silverware required!

Lessons learned or confirmed from this trip:

  • Even though people seem to be in romantic relationships with their Iphones it proved to be very helpful in directional assistance.
  • Eating local is where its at!  Maple syrup, ice cream, blueberries and lobster…need I say more?
  • My family is pretty functional!  We enjoyed each others company.
  • Hot tubs are awesome.
  • I still don’t need silverware.

My Market Family

Two years ago I joined the Peace Corps.  I had no idea what was in store for my life.  Third world living, new languages, weather and of course food.  By no accident I was placed in a small city to which, in my humble opinion, has the best market in all of Fiji, and of course I’ve been to all 8 markets that exist on the 2 main islands.  The Lautoka market has become a haven, a classroom and a social outlet.  The breadth of my knowledge has expanded in incalculable ways.  I have not only discovered new foods and how to prepare them but I have discovered how wonderful it is to forge relationships with people whose lives are also centered around food.

Who wouldn’t love shopping at this market with a smile like that!

I have become acutely aware of what “eating seasonal” means.  One automatically becomes so in touch with changing weather patterns; in the U.S. we lose this relationship because you can get a banana in Cleveland from Ecuador in January.  In Fiji, if it’s not the season for bananas you are not eating bananas.  What a blessing this is.  Sure you can buy imported apples and broccoli from a few select stores, but you are going to pay handsomely and the quality is inferior.

I’m indebted to those that became my “market family”.  The people I saw on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.  When I was gone for a few weeks they would actually notice I was gone.  When they found out I was single they would try to get me to marry their son (I was propositioned for an arranged marriage to an Indian woman’s son…it was mortifying as you can imagine).  When I was sick, they could see it in my face.  They have provided me with priceless education and friendship.  My Peace Corps service is ending in a few short days and I will miss these people dearly.

Sunjay & family: I would sit down with them every week to talk about life while drinking a coconut water and eating pineapple.

My dear friend Sandeep. I was dressed up in a sari for the Hindu holiday of Diwali.

Apple lady:  The first person who continuously spoke Hindi with me & helped me push through my struggle.  She would speak with me in Hindi in front of other people and brag about me as if I were her own daughter : )

My business savvy friend and her husband.

Coconut cutter:  There will be a gaping hole in my heart the size of a young coconut when I leave Fiji.  Coconuts are one thing I will miss most.

How did I live without so many coconuts?! Between eating the gratings, making coconut milk & drinking coconut water I think I’m up to 5 a week.

Seaweed lady: My guru for all traditional Fijian foods.  She is brilliant.  I will miss her sass and knowledge.

My sassy seaweed supplier, Eta. She was running late that morning and whispered quietly to me…”I met my friends out last night and we did a pub crawl..” hahahaha!!! I love her even more now.

No recipe this time as I am crazy busy packing and going to farewell dinners!!  Cheers!

New Zealand…they have more than kiwis!!

What does one eat when they go to New Zealand you ask?  Well, everything you can’t get in Fiji of course.  I started by eating my way through the produce section of the local market…. cherries, apricots, nectarines, strawberries and kiwi.

I wanted to cook for my host so I whipped up a brunch of lumberjack proportions & this was the menu:

Omelet with sauteed onions and zucchini

Oatmeal with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam

Fruit salad of nectarines, apricots and kiwi with a lemon juice and local honey drizzle 

I miss zucchini people, I don’t know why exactly but I go for it straight away when I can get it.  I sauté the onions and zucchini low and slow so they get soft and creamy versus burnt and crispy. The fruit salad speaks for itself, bright and tart, the honey rounds it out.  The strawberry rhubarb jam was created on the fly when I walked through a market and saw this most delightful rhubarb begging to be used.  It just so happened strawberries were on sale so the jam-idea was born.  The recipe is stupidly easy & requires no skill or technique whatsoever.  See recipe below for said tangy treat.

The brunch coming together. Strawberry Rhubarb Jam is left, fruit salad middle.

The next thing I couldn’t wait to get my hands on were the New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels.  I have had these many times before in the US and they are known globally for being some of the best in the world.  I bought some in bulk for $3.49 per kg….for those of you not familiar with the metric system that’s a meager $1.59 per pound. Score!!  A bowl of a dozen of these in a mid-range restaurant in the US is easily $18.  High 5 local seafood!!  You can make these mollusks a million different ways, but I’m a purest so I like mine steamed, straight up with nothing or at most a splash of lemon.  These were delectable.  Moist and tender, they were bathed in its own broth tasting of warm sea water, briny, mild and smooth.   The inner shell is a multi-hued mother of pearl.  This was a budget masterpiece fit for a queen.  Hands down the BEST mussels I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

The Famed New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels

New Zealand and especially Auckland is hugely ethnically diverse which makes the foodie VERY happy.  I saw kebabs, Indian, Italian and even an organic African restaurant all in one short drive.  One of the things I miss most in Fiji is hummus.  Can’t get enough of that delicious Mediterranean dip! When I was in Dunedin I asked my local host “Where’s the best kebab place?”  He replied, “Oh yeah, let’s go there now.”  A minuscule, cramped joint, but it had all the fix’ns & I was ready to build a masterpiece of meat.  I ordered the lamb kebab and after chatting with the hand-rolled cigarette smelling Turkish owner for a few minutes I think he was ready to take me back to his home country.  No worries, I used that to my advantage and out of the corner of my eye and with a gentle smile asked for extra hummus and a generous splash of the special sauce (which I later found out was a not-so-special mix of ketchup and mayo).  He obliged.  I ate it warm, parked along the beach while I watched the heavy winds push the seagulls backward.

Lamb kebab!! Sorry, I couldn't help myself before I took the picture.

And finally, the coffee.  I’m not a “don’t-talk-to-me-until-I-have-my-morning-cup-of-coffee” person.  I’m more of a “don’t-talk-to-me-unless-I’ve-meditated” kind of person.  However, over the years I have learned to enjoy the distinct flavor of a quality roasted bean.  In Fiji all you get is instant so when I land in a place that loves coffee I’m drinking it.  Even the gas stations make each cup of coffee from scratch; there wasn’t even the option of having the dreaded, disappointing cup of “drip” coffee.   But of course, you can’t drink your coffee alone, it must be accompanied by a tasty treat.  A scone, caramel slice, cookie or anything sweet, creamy, buttery, crunchy or all of the above.  I stopped for an afternoon pick-me-up in Queenstown at an outdoor café to people watch and sip a rocket-fuel strong cup of “long-black”, meaning espresso with a splash of hot water in it.   I want to taste the flavor of the bean, so I like it black, no sugar and definitely no frilly flavored cream…(shuuuuderrrr)….. I also ordered a florentine, a very thin, crisp cookie made with honey, sugar, sliced almonds and candied fruit; the underside of the cooled confection was coated with dark chocolate.  Yeah, I know, not exactly “clean eating” but I’ve got one word for you: vacation.

Enjoying the view with a long black and a florentine cookie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

1 pint strawberries, quartered with green tops removed

2 stalks rhubarb, chopped into ¼ inch pieces

1 cinnamon stick

½ cup brown sugar

2 tblsp water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat covered over medium heat stirring occasionally.  It will begin to breakdown and thicken.  Cook until thickened completely about 15-25 minutes.  Let cool and remove cinnamon stick before storing.  Store refrigerated if by some unlikely chance you have leftovers.

I also turn this into a crumble.  Take cooked strawberry rhubarb mixture and pour in a small pie dish.  Top with a mixture of oats, sugar, cinnamon and cut in butter.  Pour over top and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees or until browned on top and bubbling.