Comfort Food

Comfort food in our house takes many forms. My quick, go-to meal is spaghetti, generally with an easy red sauce I can throw together in my sleep. Jen leans toward mac-n-cheese. But there is one meal we completely agree is our favorite comfort meal.

On a blazingly hot evening last month, Jen and I decided the first time the high temperature for the day was below 70º that we would cook a pot roast for dinner. Today, September 12, is that day.

We did it up right with carrots and onions and a chuck roast, and mashed potatoes. The prep time was pretty quick—brown the meat, sear the veggies, deglaze the pot with a little red wine, then add everything back in with beef stock and water, cover, and put in a 275º oven for about 3 1/2 hours.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s done. pot roast

My only regret is I should have taken a photo that was in focus before I pigged out. It was so good, and there are left-overs for a few more meals.

Crossing the Mackinac Strait

A Great Lake was calling; we chose Huron and the town of St. Ignace, a place that a local restaurant bills as a “Drinking village with a fishing problem,” St. Ignace is the touristy gateway to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; it sits on the Mackinac Strait, which divides Lake Huron from Lake Michigan. The most important thing we needed to learn is that Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw by the locals—they look at you funny if you mess that one up.

Among its many charms, St. Ignace has direct ferry boat access to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, the filming location of the greatest chick flick ever, Somewhere in Time. Visiting the island was high on our agenda.

The 500 mile drive from Cincinnati took just over eight hours with a rest stop to eat the lunch we’d packed, then a very quick pit stop for gas a hundred or so miles further. As we pulled into St. Ignace we began looking for our hotel, where we’d be staying the next three days. The Holiday Inn Express was quiet, well situated, reasonably priced, and, delightfully, our room overlooked Lake Huron. The ubiquitous seagulls were noisy, but otherwise not a problem unless some idiot decided to feed them. Pro Tip: Do not ever feed seagulls. They’re perfectly capable of finding their own food.

After cleaning off the road dirt we headed to a restaurant where we thought we’d eaten our last time here, 10-12 years ago. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the last time; or, was it even the same restaurant? Jen and I are in disagreement about which. My prime rib was good, Jen’s lake perch, one of the reasons for coming, wasn’t good at all, and the service pretty well sucked.

After dinner we strolled the boardwalk that runs along the shoreline. The highlight for me was the Municipal Landing, where many grand boats, both large and small, were docked. Our favorite was the small sailing vessel with the wood trim. municipal landing

Upon returning to the hotel we found an orange full moon rising over Lake Huron. Photography ensued. orange moon rising

We’d had a long, exhausting day. Jen and I had a final glass of wine on the hotel room deck then slept like the dead.

Day One — Mackinac Island

We were up and functioning by about 8:30. We threw on some clothes then went to the lobby for the provided breakfast. I found the turkey sausage to be excellent, although the scrambled eggs were a bit watery. Afterward we hung out in the room for a bit, drinking coffee and reading the day’s news, then prepared for the day ahead.

We wandered around town on foot for a bit, poking into shops and looking at real estate notices. We got ourselves to the Star Line terminal before Noon for the uneventful boat ride to the island.

Approaching the island we were able to see the previously mentioned Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel

As we disembarked the morning overcast was beginning to burn off. We decided to wander the tourist-trap main street of the island. We went into a few t-shirt shops, most were trashy; our primary goal was to ride bicycles around the 8.2 mile island. Note: The red line on the image running along the perimeter of the island is the walk/bike path.

There are three or four bike rental vendors within a quarter-mile of each other; we chose the closest and rented a couple 21-speed bicycles for a few hours. This sounds routine, however the last time I was on a bicycle was April 2014 when I broke my left elbow and right hand in an accident. I’m not prone to fear, but I will admit to apprehension while donning elbow pads. When properly equipped, we hopped on the trail and headed out of town.

The “trail” was two-lane and paved, and importantly for two out-of-shape older ladies, mostly level. Mackinac Island bike trail

Early in our ride we came upon small mounds of stones and pebbles, called rock cairns, whose tradition dates to prehistory as a means of marking trails. Today they’re mostly a means of self-expression. There are hundreds of cairns along the perimeter trail. Cairns

For us the most striking feature of the island was the absolutely crystal clear water along the shoreline that photographs don’t do justice. clear water

We finished the three hour ride in about as good shape as we started, but we were getting hungry. We decided to go to the best t-shirt shop we had seen, buy a couple shirts to commemorate our ride then look for reasonable food. The shirts were easy, reasonable food—not so much. We split a hotdog then made our way back to the dock for our ride to the mainland. rooster tail

After arrival at our hotel, we made a modest effort to clean up then went to dinner at a place we’d seen the night before. Once again Jen had lake perch that was not exactly what she wanted. We realized Lake Huron perch was going to be served differently than Lake Michigan perch in Wisconsin. After eating we headed back to our hotel room and waited for the moon to rise again. Of course it did, but not as photogenically as the night before.

Day Two — We Don’t Got No Stinking Beaches

Jen awoke with a stuffed head and chest congestion, coughing and sneezing—not a good sign. We went to breakfast anyway; it wasn’t as good as the day before. Afterward we putzed around the room for a bit then put on our bathing suits and went in search of a “public beach,” as in a sandy place we that would allow us to sit in the sand and get wet in a Great Lake. Apparently folks in the Mackinac Strait are more interested in pulling fish out of the water than getting wet in it. Despite repeated attempts, none of the locals could direct us to a sandy beach. Frustrated, we went back to the hotel where Jen took flu medication and tried to nap. I found a place in the lobby conducive to reading.

Eventually, needing sustenance, we tried our third different restaurant. We avoided fish and ordered hamburgers that turned out to be so awesome that we splurged on dessert. Due to Jen’s illness, day two was pretty much a bust. When you go on vacation you take your chances; after almost twenty years together this was our first that ended badly.

Day Three — Get in the Car; Drive Forever

After breakfast we loaded the car for the dreaded eight hour drive home; we were on the road a little before 9:00 am. The first 2 hours were awesome. I set the cruise control at 79 MPH and all I had to do was steer; there was hardly any traffic. But the further south we got the more cars were on the road. We stopped for fuel and food near Flint. The most difficult part of the trip was after crossing into Ohio, dealing with traffic due to accidents and construction-narrowed lanes. It was a very stressful nine hours plus to get home. The relief upon our arrival was palpable.

Aftermath

The flu made Jen miserable on the drive home. She was a trooper, hanging in for the long journey. For some reason I avoided getting sick until Saturday, when I was in the middle of a round of golf. I survived, shot 90, then dragged my body home. Jen in the surf We thought we might find property we could purchase, use as a vacation rental until Jen retired, then live there several months of the year. Due to the lack of any beach that’s unlikely now. The Upper Peninsula is still interesting. We’ll find another excuse to go there one of these days, if for no reason other than Mackinac Island still has places we haven’t explored.