Friday, June 1, 2018

Post #21

Quote of the day: "[In Calumet] the company owned everything: the mines, the school, the library, the stores, the hospital, the coal supply, the water pumps, the garbage wagons, the church and the hymnbooks in the church. It owned the houses. It owned the red paint that added the identical finishing touch to every identical house. It owned the toilets." Robert Conot, describing Calumet during the 1870s in his book The American Odyssey.


The Recipe Box
by Viola Shipman

This is a love story. Love of food, baking, family, generational traditions, orchards, the Grand Traverse and Leelanau Peninsula area, recipes, and even old fashion romance.

Sam Nelson’s family owns one of those destination orchards that rim Grand Traverse Bay and entice locals and tourists to stop for pastries, cider and donuts, jams and jellies, and the choice of u-pick the fruit or buy it off the shelf. The orchard has been passed down through several generations of Nelsons and traditionally it’s been the mother of each generation who became the innovator and driving force behind change and renewal of the family business. The wife of the orchard’s founding couple kept a box of her favorite recipes and began the tradition of giving her daughter a copy of the recipe box when she turned thirteen.  

Although she loved the area, the family business, and was a natural at baking, Sam couldn't resist a desire to broaden her experience and see if her talents were good enough to make it on her own. Sam attended a culinary school in New York before being hired by a non-cooking TV celebrity chef who takes all the credit while berating his staff. Sam finally reaches the point where she can’t take anymore, quits, and heads for home to re-evaluate her goals and career path. Her mother and grandmother, co-managers the orchard's pastry shop and store, hope she's home for good. This all occurs in the book’s first forty pages. It takes another 280 very entertaining pages for Sam to decide whether to return to New York or stay and leave her imprint on the orchard as her mother and grandmother have.

Sam finds new joy in baking with her mother and grandma from the recipes handed down through the ages. As her grandmother explains, “The recipe box is the story of our lives, of where we come from, how we got here, and where we are now.” When the women bake a family recipe the narrative flashes back to earlier generations and how they managed to keep the business afloat in the Depression or when all the apple trees died off.  The characters are well-drawn, likable, and the reader can’t help but be pulled into their lives and the connectedness to their land and orchard. When a possible love interest from New York arrives at the orchard for a visit Sam's conundrum becomes more difficult.

The “Pure Michigan” campaign couldn’t have written a more glowing and alluring description of the Leelanau and Traverse Bay region. The beauty of the bay and the land around it literally leap off the page.  The book also contains mouth-watering recipes from the fictional Nelson family. The author lifted many of the recipes from his grandmother who was a great baker, the rest came from friends. The author took his grandmother's name as his pen name as a way of honoring her.

Frankly, this is not the kind of book I’m drawn to but it hooked me within a few pages. And I continued wolfing it down like a piece of coconut cream pie from Jesperson’s in Petoskey, even though I was pretty sure of Sam’s choice by the book’s mid-point.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman. St. Martin's Press, 2018, $26.99

Notes from a Public Typewriter
edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti

In 2013 the newly married Michael and Hilary Gustafson, against the advice of nearly everyone, opened the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. From day one an old manual typewriter was placed in a quiet corner of the store with an empty piece of typing paper in the roller. There were no posted instructions, or rules. The silent, non-judgmental, no password necessary, archaic instrument of social and business intercourse welcomed anyone’s thoughts, feelings, or concerns who sat down and began striking its keys.

Initially, Michael posted the more interesting or funny pieces on what became known as the Wall of Fame.  Then a few of the best were painted on the store’s outside wall in an exact replica of an old Smith-Corona’s font. And finally, for the benefit of those, like myself, who seldom if ever make it to Ann Arbor, Michael Gustafson teamed up with Oliver Uberti to collect, organize, and send the most memorable heartfelt notes, jokes, or observations out into the world between the covers of a book. The collection is divided thematically and each chapter is preceded by a short and thoughtful essay on subjects ranging from old typewriters to the true story of Ann Arbor’s Violin Monster and his act of kindness toward a boy who left him a message on the typewriter.

The notes are funny, sad, joyful, sarcastic, and thoughtful. The old typewriters (the store's patrons have worn out several) seem to bring out the best in people. The click-clack of striking the keys and the letters hitting the paper is the sound of the anonymous revealing their inner thoughts or playing with their sense of humor. Some of my favorites include:

“I walked in expecting to fall in love with books, not the person I walked in with.”
“I wrote a letter to Santa today so he doesn’t think we only talk to him when we want something.”
“My mom used to be a mime. I just found out. She never mentioned it.”
“In loving memory of my older daughter Rachel, who died of cancer at age 26, a year before this store opened. I would get her lots of cookbooks, but….       I can’t.”
“If I had to write a five-paragraph essay on this thing, I would withdraw from middle school.”

This copy will be thumbed through daily as I look for a connection (however tenuous) with anonymous writers who touch my heart, make laugh, or renew my faith in humanity by banging away at an old typewriter.
Notes from a Public Typewriter, edited by Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti. Grand Central Publishing, 2018, $18

Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County
by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr

I like the way the amount of information on enjoying, appreciating, and seeking out the unusual in the Traverse Bay area and the Leelanau Peninsula has been crammed into this fun and informative book with a shoehorn. The authors even boast that this is a "complete guide" and challenge the reader "to find one as thorough."

Within, the reader will find walking tours of Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, guides to area golf courses, restaurants, the best coffee houses, craft breweries, hiking and skiing areas, farm markets, orchards, natural areas, and historic sites of interest.  I especially liked the list of 63 summer festivals and concerts in the wider area. Then there are the many how-tos or instructional entrees such as: How to Pee in the Woods, (the following pun was avoidable but I couldn't) How to Harvest Leeks, How to Parallel Park, How to Cast a Fly-Line (which it fails to do), How to Plow Your Driveway, and, in a mere two pages, How to Build a Canoe.

The book warns that global warming may be the end of the area's cherry orchards and affect the production of Maple syrup. It seems warmer weather makes Maple syrup less sweet. Fifty years ago it took 25 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup, today it takes 50 gallons. The danger of the Enbridge Pipeline also gets a few lines. 

Almost every page in the book has the potential to surprise. A lot of the surprises come from the authors' intimate knowledge of the area but some are the result of the book's strange organization and lack of an index. Thumbing through the book I came upon a nude beach but neither chapter headings or an index led me there or helped me find the page again. On one page the book warns that Lake Michigan can be very dangerous for swimming because of rip tides. Dozens of pages later there is a warning about the danger of the big lake's many sandbars. Their distance offshore can be misleading and often swimmers will find themselves in water over their heads long before reaching the shallower sandbar.  Poor swimmers can find themselves in dire straits. These two warnings should be on the same page. I was disappointed in not finding a guide to private campgrounds, Traverse City's food trucks, or a comprehensive listing of the best swimming beaches in the area. 

The greater Traverse City area and Leelanau County hold a world of adventure, an indelible scenic beauty, great food and drink, enough shopping to max out a Platinum credit card, and hordes of people who come for all of the above. If you don't believe it, just thumb through this attractive, entertaining, and one-of-a-kind guidebook.
Inside Upnorth: The Complete Tour, Sport, and Country Living Guide to Traverse City, Traverse City Area and Leelanau County, by Heather Shaw, Jodee Taylor, Tom Carr. Mission Point Press, 2018, $16.95

Leelanau by Kayak: Day Trips, Pics, Tips and Stories of a Beautiful Michigan Peninsula
by Jon R. Constant with Larry Burns

The author is a retired high school teacher and coach from the Traverse City area who became a devoted kayaker who with his friend, a more experienced kayaker, decided in their mid-sixties to kayak the Leelanau Peninsula in its entirety. Meaning the pair kayaked around the peninsula on Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay and then apparently launched their kayaks on any body of water or stream big enough to float their boats.

The book is both the story of their grand adventure and a guide for kayaking either around the peninsula or any of its inland lakes and streams. For the novice kayaker, he lists the necessary equipment from the size of a kayak best suited for the big lake to all the esoteric paraphernalia needed for the paddler, including the paddle. The author fills nearly two pages on just preparing for a kayak outing and offers valuable safety tips which include being very cautious and conservative on the big lake, don't kayak alone, check and recheck the weather before leaving home, and stay close to shore. 

The kayakers grand adventure was accomplished solely by day trips over the course of three years. Each day trip is treated as a chapter in which the author gives a short introduction to the area being paddled. Then covers specifics such as the date of the trip, the location, access points for launching the kayaks, the planning, time and distance of the voyage.  Under the heading "Features," the author recounts the history of the villages, ghost towns, shipwrecks and other places of interest their kayaks take them. This section also includes vivid descriptions of the landscape and natural beauty that unfolds before them with every stroke. Accompanying the text is an abundance of photographs recording each day's journey.

Anyone considering kayaking this corner of Michigan should consider the book a must, and if the reader is not a kayaker they may well be tempted to give it a try after dipping into the book.

Leelanau by Kayak by Jon R.Constant with Larry Burns. Mission Point Press, 2018, $21.95

If you decide to purchase one of the above books clicking the mouse on the cover of the book will take you to Amazon where you can often buy it for less than the listed price. Purchasing a book by clicking on an above cover also helps support this blog.



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