The dog days of August are no time to hang out in DC. That’s why D and I spent the first week of the month with her parents in Douglas, MI, a beach town on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, where every day is 75 and sunny and there’s a constant breeze rippling through the air. If I didn’t have east coast blood in my veins, I’d have been so swept away by the perfect Michigan summer weather that I might have packed up my things and moved.
Our cottage in Douglas was downright luxurious. The beds were plush, the couches were comfy, and there was a beautiful patio out back that was perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading, eating, and gazing aimlessly into the sky.
There was a grill, too — a brand new grill that the owner generously bought after we inquired. Needless to say, kabobs and grilled chicken were in order.
Our days effortlessly took on a routine. In the morning, we moseyed onto the patio for some coffee and our first glimpse of sun. K and I alternated on breakfast duty — I cooked a batch of blueberry buttermilk pancakes one morning, she made buttery biscuits the next. Some mornings, we stayed on the lighter side and spooned out some yogurt and berries. D and I lazed around until breakfast was ready, then took clean-up duty once our stomachs were full.
The rest of the midday was spent, as beautiful Michigan lakeside days should be, at the beach. With fresh water, pristine sand, and not a cloud in the sky, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect way to spend a few hours. It took a couple days to actually unwind from the craziness of life at home, but once the shoulder muscles relaxed, I got into a steady groove of reading and dozing that’s the linchpin of any vacation. By the time the week was done, I’d finished two fabulous books: The Glass Castle, a grim but brave memoir by Jeanette Walls about her impoverished but adventurous childhood, and The History of Love, a complicated but artfully woven story about an old man, an awkward teenager, and their pursuit of a manuscript with a storied past.
We spent a couple afternoons wandering around Douglas, a tiny little artists’ town with galleries galore, and the neighboring Saugatuck, a slightly larger and more touristy version of the same. We only needed an hour or so to hit every gallery on the main drag, but we bought a pretty vase for M and a pair of funky earrings for K as a thank-you for having us.
Evenings were spent either grilling at home or trying some of Douglas’s restaurants, specifically the Everyday People Cafe and Wild Dog Cafe, both of which are favorites among the locals. Needless to say, we left both utterly stuffed and happy.
Before we knew it, it was time to head home. Vacations can’t last forever. This one, however, ended particularly abruptly, as I pulled a 15-hour day my first day back at the office. Turns out, this month is only going to get uglier. Work is just so much busier than I’d anticipated it would be, and alas, that means that NDP may find itself neglected as we head into September. If the light goes on in my kitchen, I’ll do my best to share whatever’s getting made with you all. Meanwhile, I’m just gonna keep my head down and do my best to survive the next 3+ weeks; wish me luck, and I’ll be back as soon the research is done.
I leave you with a recipe for sour cherry pie, which for me is the sheer essence of summer. As you may have guessed, I wait for the day that sour cherries hit the market. In smokin-hot DC, the season is just a couple weeks; fortunately, Michigan’s perfect weather means the season lasts a couple months. Before heading for Douglas, K and I went to the Royal Oak farmers’ market and got 2 quarts of the red jewels, which I immediately earmarked for pie. When I served up this dessert in Douglas, no one was complaining. No one was talking, really. After all, mouths were full of tart cherries, flaky pie crust and full-on vanilla ice cream.
If you’re lucky enough to have sour cherries where you are, make this pronto. If not, frozen cherries will also work.
Sour Cherry Pie
adapted from Martha Stewart
2 quarts fresh or 4 cups frozen sour cherries, defrosted until easily separated
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice and grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
flaky or rock sugar, optional
1 recipe pie crust (I use this one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine cherries, sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, lemon juice, and zest.
On a lightly floured surface, roll one disk of dough into a 12-inch round, about 1/8-inch-thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie dish. Let edges hang over sides of dish. Brush beaten egg on all but overhanging parts. Pour in cherry filling. Roll second disk of dough into a 12-inch round. Folding the dough into quarters for easy transport, lay over filling. Trim edges to 1-inch, and seal by crimping edges with thumb and forefinger. Brush with remaining egg. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with rock/flake sugar if using.
Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 400 degrees. and bake until golden brown and juices are bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes more. Remove from oven, and let cool for at least 1/2 an hour before serving.