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Adven­tures in Leland bring appre­ci­ation for Michigan beauty. | Courtesy Emilia Heider

For the past three years, I have cul­ti­vated the tra­dition of staying on campus for fall break, taking advantage of the quiet to catch up on reading and get ahead on papers. I love the way the school drains of stu­dents, and the places that usually bustle with hump-back-packed bodies assume a strange stillness. In the past, it has been one of the most pro­ductive weekends of my semester. 

This year though, I gave it all up for the chance to eat my way through Northern Michigan. I went home with a friend to see her family’s new farm­house on Lake Lee­lanau. She hadn’t seen the place yet, and though we both had tons to do, the chance to get out of town (and the promise of her family’s well-stocked kitchen) lured us north. We packed up our books and baskets of undone laundry, and nosed our way toward Leland, Michigan. 

Now the only time I had seen Northern Michigan was last April, when for spring break some friends and I stayed in a cabin near Sleeping Bear Dunes. It snowed the whole week. Though we had a glo­rious time playing board games and drinking coffee and cocoa indoors, we saw very little of the local beauty. 

So this was my first real expe­rience in Northern Michigan, and this time, I wit­nessed Michigan at her finest. The glo­rious October land­scape, the hos­pi­tality of the people, and most espe­cially, the quality of the hearty cuisine left me seri­ously con­sid­ering aban­doning my West Coast loyalty to settle per­ma­nently in Michigan farm­lands. 

The feasting started right away. We stopped for lunch on the road at Mr. Foisie’s Pasties, a tiny bakery in Cadillac that serves a flakey, buttery con­glom­er­ation of car­bo­hy­drates and sour cream that ini­tially had me stumped. My first response when my friend told me what a pasty was and why we had to get one, I thought, “Why are you handing me a hot-pocket and expecting me to be impressed?” Assured that this was all a part of the Northern Michigan expe­rience, I cut into the pie’s steaming center. 

At first bite, I was under­whelmed. But I couldn’t seem to stop at one bite. Per­plexed, I found myself devouring the whole thing, com­plete inhalation inhibited only by heat. It was sweet and savory and simple, served with sour cream and ketchup for a sur­pris­ingly sat­is­fying com­bi­nation of heat and coolness, texture and cream. We left warmed from the inside out and oh, so full. 

Boats in the harbor of Leland. | Courtesy Emilia Heider

We hadn’t even had time to regret the quiet we were missing out on at school when we made it to our final des­ti­nation around 6 p.m. We drove through an apple orchard and emerged on a little farm at the base of a sloping hillside spotted with fiery maples and golden brush. There were more little out­buildings to explore than we could count, three apple trees, and a sky so wide you couldn’t see it all at once but had to take it in chunks. The nearest neighbor was fields away. We couldn’t have chosen a more peaceful setting if we had been the only ones left on Hillsdale campus. 

Once we had settled into our little rooms inside the farm­house, we con­gre­gated in the kitchen. Because I guess the pasties weren’t starch enough, for dinner we planned a blended root veg­etable soup with potatoes, carrots, leeks and onions, topped with cut parsley and fla­vored with bouillon. For a side, we sliced golden potatoes into medal­lions and baked them with onions, olive oil, and garlic. (I have never had so many potatoes at one time, nor eaten them with such pleasure.) We sopped up the soup in our bowls with crusty french bread and washed it all down with cold cider. We didn’t touch a textbook that evening, but snuggled under piles of quilts and fell asleep lis­tening to the wind. 

We lived the next three days planning our lives around what we would eat and how it should be pre­pared. As we worked fit­fully on our various projects for school, we rev­elled in a shared love for butter and salt and starch. Every­thing we ate was fresh and sea­sonal. We took advantage of what was around us and catered our menus to what we found in our day trips to orchards and markets and health-nutty organic grocery stores. 

On the second evening, after a long day of hunting down Wi-Fi in coffee shops to send emails and write papers, we came home to cook Moroccan chicken with apricot curry sauce. While we cooked, we snacked on apple slices and crackers toasted from the leftover french bread, spread with a ripe brie cheese we bought from the Village Cheese Shanty in Fishtown, Leland. We weren’t really hungry by the time the chicken was ready, but we heaped it over mounds of white rice and cilantro anyway. We ate our dinner in little mouthfuls, slowed down by a com­bi­nation of our fullness and its heat. 

I don’t know how I have lived three falls here and am only now dis­cov­ering the glories of true Michigan feasting. It wasn’t just the flavors of the sea­sonal spices and the freshness of the produce that charmed me. The embar­rassment of gen­erosity I found in my hosts matched the over­whelming bounty of the land and gave the whole weekend a strong sense of vacation, cel­e­bration, and rest.  

Although this break we were not so pro­ductive, and will be scaling a mountain of catch-up for the next few weeks, we came back refreshed. Not only am I still full of potatoes and apples and who knows what else, I also return with a head full of images of family and domes­ticity and feasting. I can live off of that plenty forever.  

My school is right where I left it. (And so is the gym, thank God.) But, I am changed. Along with being at least 10 pounds heavier than when I left, I have now expe­ri­enced Northern Michigan in October. And after four years, I would say it’s about time.