Category: Food Destinations

Monster Candy, May’s Candy Shop, Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Monster Candy, about 4″ in diameter, from May’s Candy Shop on Mackinac Island in the straits between the peninsulas of Michigan.

It was just over a year ago Mary and I were on Mackinac Island a few hundred miles north of here. One of the shops I had wanted to visit for a few years was May’s Candy Shop. Normally I would visit a shop like that solely for their goods, in the case of May’s the fudge their family has been known for since the 1930s on the island. I didn’t go there specifically for the fudge though that day. Head Candymaker Lee May was a friend from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design, where I was video studio coordinator while Lee was a student. Unfortunately, during that week last August, Lee was in Chicago getting things ready for graduate school in the fall.

A weird thing happened. I left the candy shop after buying … nothing. And I really don’t know why.

Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago. On their Facebook page May’s Candy Shop wrote, “Happy September 1st everyone! We’ve reached our last SPOTLIGHT candy of the season… Monsters! Remember, all you have to do is like, comment, or post on our page and you’ll be entered to win!” Four people commented, and ten plus myself clicked the “Like” link. Five days later, it turned out a Monster Candy was headed my way!

The box showed up this morning:

The box itself is a classy thing on its own, being covered with foil-stamped white glossy paper. The old-style image of Arch Rock, a popular tourist attraction on the island, actually shows proper perspective of a sailboat on Lake Huron as seen through the opening in the rock from the correct height and distance. And while the box is definitely intended for use with May’s well-known fudge, the writing on the red tape holding it closed told what was actually inside.

When I opened the box I saw the Monster Candy as seen in the first photo in this post in a sealed plastic bag. It already looked amazing, the chocolate seemingly swirled on top as thickly as Lee’s people could get it on there without being sloppy. Flipping it over on a plate, it became apparent the foundation of the Monster Candy is dozens of walnut halves. But what’s that glossy stuff that had seeped through the walnuts? I had forgotten they had posted this particular photo from inside the main of their three stores:

I grabbed a sharp boning knife and, spitting the thing down the middle, found the utter deliciousness I was trying to figure out:

So why are they called Monster Candy when they’re so obviously a larger version of, well, something else? To be blunt, that term is actually copyrighted by another company. Besides, these are considerably larger and would have to be called the “sea” version of … that other thing. These are different though. I was concerned about Lee’s use of walnuts as I haven’t had good experiences with them and thought I wouldn’t like it. But these walnuts are certainly fresher than most others, not stale, and definitely not hard on the teeth. The soft caramel inside is amazingly smooth and not overly rich, having just the right amount of sweetness. And the chocolate is simply … It’s obvious May’s has tons of experience creating chocolate as this is some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

This Monster Candy tasted like I need more. That’s all there is to it. Thanks, May’s!

I think next time we go to May’s on Mackinac Island I’ll need lots of money. And maybe a flatbed cart.

Walking Tacos, Ludington-Style

Click on this image for a larger version.

Back a couple months ago, Dawn Shock retired as librarian at the Rasey Memorial Library here in Luna Pier. She’d been here for quite some time, and was an incredibly hard worker. She set up the hours at the Rasey Library in such a way that it mirrored the hours at the library over in Erie. That way, she could operate both libraries at separate times! She was also Luna Pier’s official historian, and had things stashed and catalogued all the way back to the Prohibition era and before. Her retirement has left a huge space in how things work in those areas.

So it was a pleasant surprise last week to run into her again! Of course she and I talk food on occasion, and she had a good one this time.

It seems up in Ludington, Michigan, and places near there, they offer a thing called a “Walking Taco“. (In looking into this thing, I even found it on the lunch menu for the Catholic school in Ludington.) The way she described it, Fritos are crushed into a lunch sack, taco meat is dumped on top, then lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese … you then just grab a fork and eat it out of the bag. Dawn said she’s had others and there’s nothing as good as the ones in Ludington.

I looked into this thing, and it’s real easy. I did find a few variations on the theme depending on the target eaters, but really, there’s nothing to it.

Basically, you make a Walking Taco it the way Dawn described. That’s all, plain and simple.

Another method is to crush the Fritos withing their own individual serving bag, leave ‘m in there, and pile everything on top.

Just use a commercial taco seasoning such as Old El Paso or whatever. I make it a bit drier, only adding 1/4 cup water vs. the 1 cup of water the package calls for. But for this batch I used the bulk mild taco seasoning from GFS Marketplace, mixing 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup taco seasoning for each pound of browned ground beef. I also added mild banana pepper rings and sliced black olives to mine, along with a bit of chopped onion.

This is a good mix-and-match meal that would make a great little taco bar for a picnic buffet, particularly for kids. And one of these days, we’ll get up to Ludington for what retired librarian Dawn Shock calls “the good stuff”.

Photos, Food and A Train: B&B Railroad Depot, Oregon, Ohio

What does the 7.5″ train in the above picture have to do with the amazing breakfast in the following photo, which I ate? (Er, the food, not the train.)

House Special: Crab Soft Scramble — Soft-scrambled eggs with
crab meat and cream cheese, served with fried red potatoes
and biscuits

Well, lemme tell you about a great weekend we had with the wonderful folks at the B&B Railroad Depot Bed & Breakfast in Oregon, Ohio …

Back on June 23rd I’d blogged about a day trip to the Maumee Bay State Park near the southwest corner of Lake Erie on Cedar Point Road east of Oregon, Ohio. Toward the bottom of that post I spent a few paragraphs talking about how we’d stumbled upon the B&B Railroad Depot Bed & Breakfast. I finished those paragraphs with the following: “Five years ago, Linda Brinkman’s husband Nate, a boilermaker by trade, had put together the ridable train that surrounds the house. At the time, the house was a third as big as it is now. Being a commercial contractor, Linda, as she put it, “blew the roof off” the one-story house and expanded it into her dream of having a Bed & Breakfast that the home is now … My dad has been a railroad nut for most of his 84 years. Not only that, he and mom love breakfast as much as I do. The next time they’re down for the weekend, we’re pretty sure where we’re all going to stay.

This past Friday my parents, Erwin and Joyce, and two of my sisters, Carol and Janet, arrived for the first time since we’d found this Bed & Breakfast. As we drove up to the house, my dad about had a fit … “They have a train??” It seems mom and the others had told him about the ridable train around the house, but it hadn’t quite registered with him. Of course, he was all smiles and was probably more in his element than any of us had seen him for quite a while. Besides, Nate just about adopted dad immediately, calling dad “Pops” and swapping stories about trains, military service, and just about anything else the two of them found common ground on. But of course, a Bed & Breakfast should be about a warm roof over your head, comfortable surroundings, a host family that honestly cares about their guests … and wholesome, satisfying and beautiful food first thing in the morning. The B&B Railroad Depot is all that and more.

French Crepes with Peaches, made with the fresh peaches
and syrup in the pot in the previous photo.

When you think of hotel food in a place that doesn’t charge an arm-and-a-leg, you think of the concept of the “Continental Breakfast”. Sometimes nothing more than some thawed frozen “danishes” and some orange juice from concentrate and military-grade coffee, it’s a lucky find to locate a hotel that will also include cereal and milk, and maybe day-old bagels with expired cream cheese. Mary and I have stayed at places that also include hard-boiled eggs and are now stocking waffle mix in a pitcher next to a do-it-yourself waffle station, but these aren’t as common yet.

I’ll tell you what, though, there aren’t many higher-end restaurants that can create crepes as wonderful to look at as the ones Linda Brinkman creates. Oh, yeah … they taste great, too! All the food in these photos are exactly as Linda served them. She didn’t even know I was going to take pictures, and only did what she’s used to doing.

French Crepes with Cherries, the cherries being firm and
juicy with just the right combination of tartness and sweetness.

One thing we didn’t do was to have any of these breakfasts on the glass tables out on the wraparound porch on the south and west sides of the house, or as Linda said, “Out on the lanai.” When they were putting together the concept for the B&B Railroad Depot, one of her ideas was to develop a B&B she’d call “The Lanai”. They’d serve all kinds of tropical drinks out on the lanai itself, including the tempting French Crepes with Tropical Sauce you see in this photo. I think it’s a wonderful idea myself. Let’s see, we’d have to move to Hawaii or Bermuda first … it it’s Bermuda, I’d have to get some of those funky Bermuda shorts … oh, right, I’d have to get Linda’s recipe for this tropical sauce …

Oh, here’s a neat idea! Take a close look at this photo of the Ham & Cheese Omelet with Fried Redskin Potatoes Janet had for breakfast the first morning:

No, don’t look at the food. Look at the top of the image … the flatware service in a florist-green linen napkin, with the flower banded to it. Now look at the photo on the left. Yup, this vase is where that flatware service came from! The vase is loaded with more than a couple dozen of those flatware packs and nothing else! In what some have called one of her “Martha Stewart moments”, Linda had found the flowers and flexible bands, one of which you can see at the bottom of the photo here. These are simply imitation corsage armbands for little girls! Linda realized they were exactly the right size as a napkin ring and picked up a few dozen of them in assorted colors, along with the florist-green linen napkins. Once loaded with them in the bouquet, the vase is in the middle of the table on a turntable, along with those cobalt-blue salt-and-pepper shakers. How cool is that?

Beyond all the scrumptious food Linda made for us in the mornings, Nate would come in and say things such as, “Erwin, there’s about 20 minutes of sunlight left today … Let’s get a ride in while we can!”

Ahhh, what a happy man!

Heartfelt thanks to Nate and Linda Brinkman for such great times this weekend. We’ll all be going back!

Alden Mill House, Alden, Michigan

Two summers ago on our honeymoon, Mary and I rented a house near the northeast corner of the amazingly-clear Torch Lake, located between Traverse City and Charlevoix. As the lake is almost 20 miles long but very narrow, we decided one day we were going to simply drive around it and see all the sights. After passing the southeast corner and turning north in Elk Rapids, we ended up coming into a slew of traffic of both vehicles and pedestrians. Passing through a 90-degree-turn eastward, we found ourselves in the extremely busy little town of Alden. It was Thursday, at lunch-time, what the hey were all those people doing there?? It turns out that Alden, Michigan, is simply the little town every other little town hopes to become. They pack so much into a distance of about a half-mile, the whole place is a destination all its own.

Having lunch at a place called the Kountry Kitchen (now The Sweet Onion or something like that) I found some nice spices on the table. The address on the label indicated they were made right there in town. I’d ordered an omelet, and when it was brought to me, I followed my sister’s lead with her Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and sprinkled some Alden Mill House‘s Farm Market Salad Seasoning on the omelet. Oh yeah, that was nice! The server said the mill house wasn’t far away, but I didn’t feeling like touring what I thought was an industrial facility. So, we went shopping instead.

In the tiny grocery in town, I picked up a couple Alden Mill House jars and took them to the counter. I was stunned when the girl at the register said they were cheaper at the mill house itself. Wait … you’re suggesting I get them elsewhere for less?? Wow …

Walking the rest of the way east to the next 90-degree-turn in the road, we finally saw the Alden Mill House. Good Sister Mary Margarita, I’m seeing Pippi Longstocking’s Villavillakula here!

These photos are from this past Friday, during our 4th or 5th visit to the Alden Mill House. As unkempt as the yard west of the house appears, it’s actually groomed this way by Chef Geno, a retired Chef, and owner of the Mill House and developer of the wonderful spices made there. The rest of that side of the yard is just as odd, but in a strangely-beautiful way:

Of course, you have to be careful where you step! This guy, photographed two years ago, was still waiting last Friday for someone to trip …

The east side of the yard, bordered by that other 90-degree-turn in the road, is more traditional. In the past year or so, a wonderful decorative waterwheel has been added where the road makes that turn:

Inside, the incredible fragrance of freshly-milled spices fills the nostrils, making me just a touch light-headed each time I enter this place. The room at the east corner of the house contains the spices I use most:

This year I used the (somewhat) annual trip to the Alden Mill House to stock up on those items I use most. You can get some of these spices at the jerky shops in Luna Pier and Dundee, but only in the smaller jars that are half the size of these. I’ll tell you what though, it’s worth the drive to Alden to pick up countless other items you can’t get at the jerky shops. Here’s my stash from last Friday’s visit:

In the larger four jars are:

  • Farm Market Salad Seasoning: Great on salads, fish, pork, etc., I found out right away it’s also excellent on eggs.
  • Pork & Poultry Seasoning: A nice rub for both pork and poultry, it’s good for these items when used in other dishes as well, such as chicken salad.
  • Miracle Blend: I probably go through a full pound of this stuff every six months or so. A mix of Kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder and other niceties, this is my go-to spice for everything from fried or scrambled eggs, to mashed potatoes, steamed, blanched or fried vegetables, and countless other uses.
  • Malibar Island Pepper: A 50/50 mix of both Malibar Island and Tellicherry peppers, this stuff is so fresh, you can stick your nose in the jar, take a BIG whif, and not sneeze! Oh, and it tastes great, too!

The Strawberry Rhubarb Jam in the jar in front turned out to have an incredible flavor, reminding me of a fresh pie. And the fish plaque is for Mary’s brother’s cottage on Walpole Island in Canada.

I would actually like to see Chef Geno’s spices available in more locations than they are. These are some of the best additions for food that I’ve ever stumbled into. Go get y’all some!