Friday, October 4, 2013

Highway 13 Revisited: Apple Season in the Apostle Islands

'Zat You?: A Portrait Amongst the Apples by Anna Morales

My restlessness often gets the best of me in the fall. The leaves are changing, the air’s getting colder, something on the wind is gently whispering, “Get the hell out of here or forever hold your peace (at least until six months from now when you finally thaw out of the ground again).”

So Anna and I took a few days off and headed up to the peak of the Wisconsin mitten. If you need a demonstration of said mitten, ask a Wisconsinite where they live, they will hold up their hand like a mitten. Green Bay is in the crook of the thumb and Minneapolis is just off the third knuckle of the pinkie. Up just past the ring finger are the Apostle Islands, a group of 22 picturesque islands, dotted with sea caves, jutting into the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior.

We took off after work on Friday, stopping at the Farm in Hayward (I’m an honorary ‘Sconnie since I married into about 40 acres just outside of the Muskie capital of Wisconsin and therefore, arguably, the world) to drop off our dog, Joon, with Anna’s parents. After a short trip up 63 and a quick jump on 2 we reached one of my favorite of Wisconsin’s scenic byways, beginning at Ashland’s Lakeshore Drive and becoming Highway 13.

Highway 13 runs up to Bayfield and around the tip of Superior’s south shore and is chock full of scenic overlooks, campsites, state parks and farms selling everything from homemade goat cheese to apple cider doughnuts. Here are a few of my favorite things (in no particular order) that we came across this time on our trip up Highway 13:
1. Bayfield Harbor – One of the most popular mooring points for boats on the South Shore, Bayfield harbor faces east toward Madeline Island and is a great place to hang out, catch some brilliant colors of the sunset and see some truly gorgeous, vintage sailboats.
2. Whitefish Livers and Brandy Old Fashioneds at Maggie’s – Whitefish livers, breaded and fried. Yeah I said it. They’re delicious. I also gained new appreciation for the timeless Wisconsin cocktail, the brandy Old Fashioned, sweet. A friend of mine commented that her mother once ordered a brandy Old Fashioned, sweet at a bar in Seattle and the waiter returned and asked her what part of Wisconsin she was from. Classic!
3. Meyers Beach and Sea Caves – This was a new one for us. We decided to head over to Meyers Beach, almost on the other side of the point of the mitten, near Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Anticipating a fairly short hike, Anna and I soon found ourselves on a moderately strenuous one that was quite worth the walk once we reached some of the most incredible sea caves we’d ever seen. A hidden gem, for sure.
4. Lunch on the Terrace of Blue Vista Farm – Blue Vista is known for their Wisconsin Heritage Site stone farmhouse that has been lovingly restored over the past few decades, their garden of plants that promote healthy apiculture and their delicious blueberries, raspberries, apples and other manner of incredible, homegrown organic fruits. We spent about an hour hanging out on the terrace outside of the farmhouse and having some incredible blueberry preserves and blueberry apple cider from their farm.
5. Raspberry Peach Pie from Egg Toss – Fruit pies are a big thing in our family. My wife is, in fact, in the process of making an apple pie as I write this. So when Anna waxes rhapsodic about the raspberry-peach pie from Egg Toss, you know it’s good.
6. Apple Picking and Apple Cider Doughnuts from Erickson Orchards – It’s apple season on the South Shore. Next week thousands of people will flock to Bayfield to pick apples, drink cider, eat pie and participate in all of the nonsense that happens when thousands of people descend on a town of 600 (getting drunk on Miller Lite, eating funnel cakes from food trucks, etc.) Anna and I beat the rush and hit up Erickson Orchards for a couple bags full of fresh-picked apples and some of their famous apple cider doughnuts. We decided to just buy one doughnut and ended up buying six. They are amazing.
7. The Madeline Island Ferry and Rock Hopping in Big Bay State Park – The last time we were up on the South Shore, Anna and I spent most of our time on Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands and the only one with paved roads. The Madeline Island Ferry Line (or MIFL if you want to go there, which I do) will take you, your car and apparently most other things across on a bumpy 20-minute ride across the bay to La Pointe, a town of a couple hundred permanent residents on Madeline Island. It’s a fun way to get out on the open water and also get yourself, your car and all of your camping gear over to Big Bay State Park. Once in Big Bay you can either go up the Point Trail which is on the windward side of the island and has some really incredible sea caves and promontories or take the Bay View trail down the leeward side of the island and come across some beautiful stone and sand beaches.
8. Chequamegon Books in Washburn – I’m a big fan of used bookstores. Myopic in Chicago, Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, the Red Wheelbarrow in Paris (RIP). So it was surprising to find such a great used bookstore in the small town of Washburn, Wisconsin. To me, a great used bookstore should be stacked high with all manner of hardcover and paperback that lets you get lost among the shelves. Situated in an old brownstone building on the main street of Washburn, Chequamegon Books has just the right feel of book-lined austerity, complete with two of those sliding ladders, and also of a place where used books are both bought and sold (we stopped at another bookstore in Bayfield where they were selling used paperbacks for $22, give me a break!). I always come out of Chequamegon Books with my arms full of books I never knew existed.
9. Houghton Falls – I’m reluctant to talk about Houghton Falls because I want to keep it for myself. It’s a little over a half mile toward the coast from Highway 13, but this little nature walk ends in one of the most incredible scenes I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s hard to explain, but if you go off the beaten path a little ways you will come across scenery that looks as though it is straight out of a fantasy novel.
10. Sandwiches at Coco – We always try to stop at Coco on our way back from the South Shore. They make great baked goods, brew great coffee and have a dedication to doing things the right way. We picked up some sandwiches on the way home and ate them at the campsite just north of Washburn. Anna got a trout reuben (yes, trout) and I got a smoked turkey and pickled apple sandwich. They were both incredible. Also, remember that guy who floated with his dog in Superior because the dog had arthritis? Well we saw that guy in Coco. Bonus.

*If you want to read more about the Brandy Old Fashioned, Jeffrey Morganthaler has a great article on the merits of the Wisconsin classic.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Roatan Retreat: Barefoot Cay

We had a rocky landing in Roatan. A cold front had come down from the States and whipped off the coast of Honduras, creating some rough turbulence for our little plane. For some reason, whenever I travel by plane these days I bring along some kind of media about aviation disasters. Last year, when we went to California, I was working on transcription for Sole Survivor. I was working on subtitles for Sole Survivor again when I flew to Chicago. This year I was reading a passage in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Wind, Sand and Stars” about a pilot crashing his plane in the Andes. So far these stories of catastrophe in the air haven’t proven to echo into my life, thankfully. Makes me wonder about my subconscious, sometimes, though.

Our first stop was at Barefoot Cay, a resort on the landward side of the island near French Harbor. Due to a strange layover situation necessitating an overnight stay in Cleveland, Ohio, Anna and I had completely missed breakfast. By the time we reached Barefoot Cay we were famished. Luckily, the kitchen at BFC is open almost all day. But resort food? Yuck. It’s generally the most of tasteless, bland crap that they can get away with, seeing as how you’re already roped in to staying there.

Barefoot Cay, however, is different. They’re not particularly fancy or imaginative, but what they lack in creativity they more than make up for in technical skill. For instance, I had a chicken wrap for lunch. It was the best damn chicken wrap I have ever had in my life. The chicken itself was cooked to perfection, moist on the inside and lightly charred on the outside, the lettuce was fresh and crisp and there was just a hint of gorgonzola sauce drizzled throughout. For lack of trying, I never thought I would categorically announce the best chicken wrap of my life, yet here I am.

Simple, well-executed meals abound on their menu. This morning we had a ranchero breakfast. Succulent beef tenderloin, eggs cooked to perfection (I asked for over-medium, one of the most notoriously difficult egg temps to nail, their cook hit it right on the head) homemade tortillas and a savory ranchero sauce without too much heat on it.

I’ve overheard other travelers say that the food at Barefoot Cay is the best on Roatan. I’m inclined to believe them, but that’s not going to stop me from doing more research.