Saturday, August 22, 2015

Exploring the Pioneer Wine Trail

There’s no need to travel to Napa for great tasting wines, just head across the border to Southeast Michigan’s wine region and hit the Pioneer Wine Trail.

The trail, made up of a cluster of eight wineries, stretches north from Adrian to Haslett, a suburb of Lansing. There’s no real start or finish to the trail though – you can begin your tour at either end or right in the middle. 

And traveling between wineries is half the fun. Along the way, you’ll encounter rolling hills, antique shops, quaint boutiques, and cozy bed and breakfast inns in case you’d like to stay a night or two.

Award-winning wines proudly displayed at Sandhill Crane Vineyards.

Having visited several of the wineries along the trail, I can vouch for the fact that each one has a vibe all its own – much like the wines they produce. 

For example, the Flying Otter Winery is an off-the- beaten-path, mostly outdoor setting with beautiful views of the vineyards while Pentamere Winery is an urban venue and tasting room right in the heart of downtown Tecumseh –they’ve got some great wine-related gifts too.  

Thanks for the cellar tour, Dan Measel.

From left: Susan Serafin, event coordinator for the Pioneer Wine Trail, and Maria Measel, Nathan Sparks and Dan Measel of Pentamere Winery are happy to share their wines and stories with you.

Here are highlights from a few more locations we visited:  Housed in the historic Hayden-Ford Mill, also in Tecumseh, is J. Trees Cellars, an industrial-farmhouse style tasting room designed with old barn wood, metal chairs and factory pendant lighting.


Cherry Creek Winery is in an old schoolhouse.

Cherry Creek Cellars is located in a historic 1870s brick schoolhouse near Michigan International Speedway where visitors can sample wines like Raceway Red at the knotty pine bar.

Vines at Sandhill Crane Vineyards.

Wander through the rows of maturing grapes then grab some lunch at the cozy café before or after wine tasting at Sandhill Crane Vineyards.

The cafe' at Sandhill Crane Vineyards offers a variety of sandwiches, salads and appetizers to complement its wines. 

While each winery along the trail is unique, they all have one thing in common – friendly and knowledgeable proprietors who are happy to share their stories and award-winning wines with you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Savoring the season's bounty

Last week we were gifted with some beautiful eggplants and green beans from a neighbor’s garden. The vegetables we received were unlike the usual varieties found in markets this time of year. 

Greek Moussaka (eggplant casserole) and Green Beans in Tomato Sauce

The eggplants were petite and don’t grow much larger, explained our neighbor. And the beans, which were growing vertically, were about 12 inches long. 

All of the veggies raised in my neighbor’s garden seemed a bit exotic – and that’s because they all came from seeds from India.

Petite eggplants grown from seeds from India.

I don’t have much experience with Indian food, so I decided to use the veggies in something I do – Greek food!

I know, right? Here is what I created:

Moussaka (Eggplant Casserole)
Serves 4 to 6
The sweet spices of the cinnamon and nutmeg balance beautifully with the tangy eggplant and creamy béchamel. It’s a perfect casserole to share with family and friends.

1 pound ground beef
2 cups diced sweet onion
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 14.5 ounce can roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 large or 8-10 petite eggplants, thinly sliced
Oil for sautéing

Béchamel Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 eggs

Mix 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan with 4 tablespoons Italian-style bread crumbs.

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large frying pan, heat oil and sauté eggplant for about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. In the same pan, brown beef and onions. Add spices and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Layers of sweet and savory meat sauce and sauteed eggplant.

In a saucepan, melt butter.  Remove from heat and stir in flour. Gradually add milk, then salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk well then cook over medium heat until thick. Add cheese and allow sauce to cool slightly. Whisk in eggs.

In an 8"x 8" casserole, layer meat and eggplant slices. Pour on sauce. Sprinkle with toppings. Bake for 1 hour or until sauce has set. Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing (Yes, you can do it).

Moussaka fresh from the oven topped with creamy bechamel sauce.

Green Beans in Tomato Sauce
Serves 4-6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
14 ½ ounce can roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 ½ to 2 pounds fresh green beans
Fresh lemon slices for garnish

I used two types of green beans - regular size from the farmers market and long Indian beans.

In a large pan, sauté onion in oil.  Add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 to ½ hours. Garnish with lemon juice.

Spicy and tender Greek Green Beans in Tomato Sauce.

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Ann Arbor - A Close Second

You may have heard that one of our favorite places is Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We can’t get enough of it – the eclectic mix of people, the culture, the landscape, the artistry, the cuisine. You also may have heard that one of our other favorite places is Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A shady ally is bursting with hostas and petunias.

In fact, the two cities are very much alike. How in the world are two cities so far apart on the map even close in relation, you ask? The answer is simple - they both have a similar vibe and energy. 

We love Ann Arbor for all of the same reasons that we love Santa Fe…well sans the mountains.

Varieties of zucchini at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

But then again, Santa Fe doesn’t have Big Ten Football.  Not to mention Ann Arbor is a heck of a lot closer to us than Santa Fe, so we visit often.

In The Big House at University of Michigan last fall.

Yesterday was beautiful in Ann Arbor.  It was a typical warm summer day with a lovely breeze. The sidewalks were packed with people of all ages visiting galleries, shopping the boutiques and eating at outdoor cafes. 

Margarita Pizza at The Jolly Pumpkin for lunch.

There were musicians and artists and a few pups too. The farmers market was in full swing, and there was the usual wrap-around-the-building line of folks waiting to order lunch at Zingerman’s Deli.

Music and the arts are abundant in Ann Arbor.

While Santa Fe may be number one in our hearts, Ann Arbor is a close second – and it’s just up the road.

Meandering through the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

Fresh herbs for sale in a burlap display.

Have a great week!