My Trip to Door County, or, A Dissertation on the Cherry

Jason and I went up to Door County, WI this weekend. It was the first trip we’ve taken alone since Zoe was born and actually only the third trip we’ve ever taken just the two of us, which sounds completely ridiculous and unbelievable considering that we’ve been together for thirteen and a half years, but it’s true.

Some of my readership (Dad, Uncle Mark, Lisa – so, like, a third of my readership? Uncle Mark, do you in fact read this site?) has already seen Jason’s e-mails about this, but I’ll tell it from my perspective, too.

For those of you who don’t know, Door County, Wisconsin is the county that covers that peninsula sticking into the top of Lake Michigan.

door county map

It’s a resort-ish collection of towns, with adorable little downtowns that have adorable tchotchke shops (and I have to ask – how do people who don’t know Yiddish describe stores like the ones in resort towns all over the country?) and places where you can rent boats or bikes or mopeds or go parasailing or fishing or play golf or, you know, do vacation-y things.

It is also the home of the cherry.

And whitefish. Lots of whitefish. But more cherries.

Day Zero

So Wednesday Jason took Zoe to his parents’ house when he got home from work. I had to run out of the house, too, and because we’ve been on the move constantly, I hadn’t really realized that once I left the house, I wouldn’t see Zoe for FIVE WHOLE DAYS. So then I got all sad and choked up and she was being the sweetest little girl ever, saying good-bye so nicely, and she’d miss me for 100,000. (This is a thing now.) And giving me lots of kisses while also being totally cool about it, because she was SUPER-EXCITED to stay at her grandparents’ for five days.

Then on my way home there was a major thunderstorm. So that was cool.

Jason and I had intended to be ready to go so that we could just roll out of bed and into the car and get passed Milwaukee before rush hour.

That did not happen.

You guys, we’re kind of tired. We’ve been travelling a lot.

So Jason brought me Yu’s from Schaumburg around 9 o’clock. We watched an episode of “Mad Men” (I am so in favor of Peggy banging Stan, btw. I mean, if she’s looking to me for approval, she’s got it.) and went to bed, and then packed in the morning. Which meant we didn’t leave until basically after rush hour was over. Which is also fine.

Day One

We arrived in Door County in mid-afternoon and checked in to our hotel, The Coachlite Inn, in Sister Bay. It had a giant rainbow flag outside, as did a lot of places, and I have to say, I’m not totally sure if Door County is especially gay-friendly, or if it’s so rural and innocent that they don’t know what the rainbow flag means and just use it to help you spot the driveways. But the hotel was nice. Big jacuzzi in the bathroom. Clean. Friendly. Free, unpassworded wifi. Which would turn out to be important because our service sucked everywhere that was not our hotel room.

Anyway, after settling in a bit, we headed over to Fish Creek, which has the highest concentration of adorableness on one strip of road. The road being 42, which is what all things are on. Want to go to Fish Creek? Head south from Sister Bay on 42. Want to go to Washington Island? Head north on 42 until it goes into the water. The ferry will be on your left. Want to go to the movies? Keep going south on 42 until you see a movie theater. It’s convenient.

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So we shopped in Fish Creek. Got some cherry fudge. Looked at tchotchkes. There was this one store with lots of leather jackets and furniture made from branches and real hide rugs and stuff. There was this hooded poncho made of strips of fur that I thought was hilarious. I loved the wood furniture with the legs all twisted branches and the surfaces like you’d just taken a slice of tree. There was also this really cool piece made of different colored stone to look like a rapids across the table top.

Jason fell in love with these Australian opal-and-amethyst rings and decided Zoe needed one.

I ask you.

She’s going to be demanding, like, a Dior prom dress and he’s just going to go, “But she’ll like it so much!”

Anyway, I also went into the Alexander Noble Home. Alexander Noble was one of the earliest settlers of Fish Creek and his home was designed more or less by his oldest daughter – they had a copy of the plan she gave the carpenter and everything. She made her bedroom the biggest. The house actually stayed in the family until 1995, which is pretty impressive. And the house was showing all sorts of Victorian (and later) wedding things, which was neat. I had a nice chat with the guide about my wedding and also the morals of young kids these days, and I learned some things. That device that someone had given to Zoe’s preschool that I couldn’t figure out? Coffee grinder. They had one, too. Victorian ladies used to make jewelry out of their hair. Oh, and my favorite thing – they would have a cake for the general guests, then a groom’s cake, and then also a lady’s cake, for the bridesmaids. And they’d have ribbons on the bridesmaids’ cake that the bridesmaid would pull out and at the end there’d be a little favor for her! Like a ring or a pin or something! Isn’t that cute?

After we finished shopping we wanted dinner. Jason chose the place with cherry barbecue ribs on the menu, even though I thought it looked a little too corporate. And it was. But cherry barbecue sauce is a good idea and I got some cherry jam so I could try it this summer, and I had a drink of cherry brandy, honey-jalepeno syrup, and club soda that was pretty good and would be better if the ratio were a little less club-soda-skewed.

There was a mini-golf place right next to our hotel so we went there that evening. I had been avoiding playing mini-golf with Jason because I have memories of sucking at it and I thought he’d make fun of me and I would lose and hold everyone up and it would be awful. But he really wanted to play so I said okay, I’ll play.

And you know what? I didn’t suck. I was fine. Not good or anything. But fine. He only beat me by 3 points, and we were neck and neck most of the time. So that felt good. Healed some childhood trauma for me.

Day Two

We wanted to bike on Washington Island, which is the island off the tip of the peninsula there.

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So after some cereal at the hotel, we drove up 42 until we got to the ferry. Well, at one point we almost took a different ferry, but in the end we sorted ourselves out and got on the boat.

We were crossing the little bit of water that gives the county its name. See, some time ago, the Potawami tribe occupied Door County. Then the Winnebago tribe (Yeah, it’s a tribe, not just an RV company. I learn something new every day.) went on a murderous rampage and took the peninsula by force. The Potawami who survived escaped to Washington Island. The Winnebago decided to pursue them there, but as their best warriors headed in their canoes across the 6-mile passage, a storm kicked up and dashed the warriors on the rocks, killing them all. That passage – which was entirely peaceful when we headed across it – became known as “Death’s Door.”

Jason crossing Death's Door. Does he look scared?

Jason crossing Death’s Door. Does he look scared?

So we headed across the door of death to Washington Island, and got on our bikes. We biked through a couple of miles of nothing – including four pieces of waterfront property for sale; I thought we could maybe buy them all and open a sleep-away camp or maybe a luxury resort. Then we turned on the Main Road, which the map I had seemed to indicate would have some cutesiness on it. But you know what Washington Island has on it?

Not much.

We pulled over where the “cherry train” trolley tour had stopped, at a general store – not a cutesy one – and a book store which was not open for business yet. Whether for the day or for the summer was difficult to tell. The non-cutesy general store also did not have both the gold and the red verjus (and not green and gold, like Jason indicated in his e-mails) that was made on the island, and which I need to make virtually anything from my Shakespeare’s Kitchen cookbook, so we moved on.

We biked all the way up Main Road, which continued to host farms and little else, and then turned in to go to Schoolhouse Beach. Schoolhouse Beach is one of only five beaches in the world that has limestone rocks instead of sand. It was the most awesome place I’ve ever seen, except the Negev desert. It was small, surrounded by cedars, and entirely made up of these perfect, smooth limestone rocks. Which had spiders living under them. And the forest was full of mosquitos. But it was truly beautiful.

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And then we looked up and saw a sun halo!

See the mosquitoes?

See the mosquitoes?

Only we didn’t know it was a sun halo! Because we didn’t have any service of any kind for our iPhones! So I thought maybe it was the end of the world. But a beautiful end.

We biked back down Main Road and stopped at the one cafe we saw, which happened to also be the one cafe I’d picked out in the guide book as the one I wanted to go to. It was called Bread + Water cafe, and it was a restaurant, bakery, kayak shop and museum, possibly the center of some sort of community service project, AND had free Wifi. That was when we looked up the sun halo thing and reassured ourselves that the end was NOT nigh. But it was the most adorable place.

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Kind of Jesus-y. You could request a prayer along with your not-from-powder lemonade. And the woman who sat us and seemed to manage or possibly own the place seemed very surprised when we walked in and wanted to order a meal. I got the impression that she usually knew personally the people who came in. She seemed to know everyone else there. And by everyone else, I mean the two waiters, who were young teenagers and may have been part of this community outreach program, their family members who were in the restaurant sitting with the proprietress when we walked in, and maybe three others, at least one of which I thought probably had an intimate relationship with marijuana. Jason had a very delicious-looking ham-and-cheese sandwich with homemade slaw, and I had them combine the two salads on the menu so that mine had spinach AND apples AND bacon AND almonds AND feta AND – naturally – cherries. It was really good. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw how low-rent an operation this was, but it was a damn good salad.

And we finally had a slice of cherry pie. Thank God. They were going to kick us out of Door County any second.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

And I got my verjus at the grocery store across the street, along with some chocolate-covered dried cherries. So that was good.

We made the 2 o’clock ferry back and then went back to refresh ourselves and then had dinner at a family-owned diner in Sister Bay called Grasse’s, where I had some truly excellent white fish. And we had some cherry ice cream, too. We took a walk on the pier and then returned home for the night. The biking had wiped us out pretty good.

Day Three

I had been told of Al Johnson’s, the Door County institution with live goats on its roof, and it was right there in Sister Bay, so we went for breakfast. It’s a Swedish establishment with a “butik” that was apparently the first store in Door County to sell, in 1974, bikinis. Scandalous.

See? Goats. It's hard to make this shit up.

See? Goats. It’s hard to make this shit up.

It’s a family-owned place – Al Johnson himself only died three years ago; his widow still owns it; one of his sons sat us and the other apparently cooked our food. Jason had eggs Benedict and I had Swedish pancakes – thin, almost crepe-like, and, at Al Johnson’s, rectangular – with lingonberries and a side of Swedish meatballs, which were good, but honestly, the ones I made a few months ago were a little better. We got Zoe a stuffed goat and me a cookbook of Swedish cookies and stuff, and also some limpa bread, which I brought home and haven’t eaten yet.

Then we were determined to get to Sweetie Pie’s, the best place, we were told, for cherry pie, before it closed. It was in Fish Creek but down 42 a ways from where the main shops are.

It was really cute. It was, like, a normal kitchen, not even a double oven or anything, and a few varieties of pies, and they offered “crust cookies” when we came in. We got one big cherry pie to share with Jason’s parents when we got back, one little cherry pie for Jason’s co-worker, and two little pies – a chocolate pecan and an apple – for us. Then we walked around the shopping area where Sweetie Pie’s was located and had a lovely conversation with the owner of the alpaca store, who was also an alpaca farmer. One of the first in the United States! And she had a farm on Washington Island but that was being taken over by her nephew, who liked the property because he could put a deer stand out there. And me, being from a family like mine, was like, “What’s a deer stand?” So I got a lovely lesson in that, too.

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By then it was raining. I had wanted to go to the Fyr Ball festival in Ephraim, which was my favorite town so far because in addition to the cuteness, it looked like the kind of town people actually lived in, with a Village Hall/Library, and a Wilson’s Soda Shop, and all these cool flags for the Fyr Ball.

Fyr Bal

But obviously it wasn’t going to be fun in a thunderstorm, so we decided to drive all the way to Sturgeon Bay – which kind of lacks cutesiness and is really where people actually live – to go to the one regular movie theater in all of Door County to see Man of Steel. (There’s a drive-in, and we wanted to go, but they were showing Iron Man 3 and Fast and Furious 6. You guys, I totally missed Fast and Furious 5! I can’t see 6!)

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

I did not much care for Man of Steel. Jason liked it. I did not.

I do not want to spoil it for anyone, or make much of a discussion of it on this particular blog post, so if you want to discuss with me the merits and de-merits of Man of Steel, please feel free to e-mail, call, or message me. Or take it to the comments and we can have it out there. But I just did not care for it. And I will say this one thing – I am too damn old for shaky-cam 3D. I was even too damn old on Saturday, and that was before I turned 32!

So once we got out the rain had cleared. We stopped at a wine-tasting place and tasted – and then bought – some wine, and then tasted – and bought – a whole bunch of cheese. At least two of the wines we bought and at least four of the ones we tasted involved cherries somehow. None of the cheeses we tasted did but I think the cheese place had at least one cheese that involved cherries.

We also stopped in Fish Creek to have dinner at the fancy place I’d picked out our first night but didn’t feel appropriately dressed for. I had made us reservations and we were supposed to come back later that night, after I had changed and put on my nice shoes, but Jason was hungry now, so we decided to have dinner early.

It was at Whistling Swan, which is a great name, and their whole look – I was just totally enamored. Very neutral, pale colors, dark woods, metal and stone bird statues and black and tan pebbles on the table, stacks of birch wood and gunmetal light fixtures. I know I tend to favor a lot of color in my decor scheme but sometimes I want to wipe it all out and do this style instead.

And the meal was VERY good. I had the wine the waitress recommended, which was sort of herby and delicious. They gave us a cucumber basil gazpacho as an amuse bouche which was creamy and had a real kick. Then we shared a pork belly taco with jalepeno-tomato jam and picked red onion, and a sort of pate thing (‘nduja) with mascarpone on toast and chervil. I don’t always like chervil but this was really good. I also ordered a tomato salad with mustard greens, pesto, and house-made ricotta, and Jason was all, “Eh, I don’t think we need a salad,” and ate half of it. Because it was delicious. And because of course he did. Then he got a perfectly cooked flat-iron steak with veal reduction, haricots verts, carrots, mushroom (trumpet? What’s the kind that’s got a thicker stem than cap?) and mashed potatoes, and I got duck breast with peas, new potatoes, carrots, and a beet puree. Everything was excellent. Then some good Chai (but not as good as yours, Shobhit!) and a chocolate fudge cake which was way more fudge than cake (which is an EXCELLENT thing) with honey ice cream, crushed pistachios, and salted caramel. And THEN they brought us two tiny, tiny spoons with that caramel, covered over in amaranth seeds, which are sort of corn-like.

Anyway. It was delicious, the room was beautiful, and we were very happy.

By the time we got to Ephraim the Fyr Ball was more or less over, although there was a really good band playing covers of ’80s songs in the Village Hall. We didn’t stay for the bonfire (bonfyr?) or the little girls in Swedish outfits dancing, which I was sort of disappointed about, but we had been out all day and Jason was tired and wanted to go home. So we did. I soaked in the tub for a while, wrote, and eventually we broke out the chocolate pecan pie which was DELICIOUS.

Day Four

Time to go home. We got up and got packed. Jason observed that I hadn’t had any of the Scotch we brought up with us, so he insisted that I have a sip before we put it in the trunk. So mark your calendars, folks – my descent into depravity started on my 32nd birthday, when I had Scotch before 9 am.

We had intended to go to the landmark White Gull Inn in Fish Creek for their famous Door County Cherry French Toast, but when we got there we discovered that we would not be seated for an hour, so Jason said forget it. We went down the street to The Cookery, which is where I’d wanted to have dinner that first night. And when we walked in, I said hi to the guy who’d been manning the desk at Whistling Swan the night before, and was now having breakfast with his parents. I think it gave Jason a pause that I could greet familiarly a handsome and bearded young man, but you know. I’m a man magnet. He’s just gotta deal.

The restaurant was very good. It was owned by a couple who bought the place on their honeymoon (I mean, it wasn’t a total whim; they had met in a kitchen and were looking to open a restaurant together), and they still operate it, along with their daughters. Very dedicated to homemade, locally sourced, etc. Jason had more eggs Benedict on their homemade biscuits and I had fried eggs over the biscuits served with their whitefish chowder. AND of course Jason had a lemonade spiked with their house-made cherry syrup, and I had their house-made ginger ale spiked with their house-made cherry syrup. The refills were supposed to be sans cherry syrup, but they gave us more anyway, which was nice.

And then we got some more cherry fudge – they had dark chocolate this time! – before getting in the car and heading home. Well, to my in-laws’, where Zoe was.

My favorite thing on the ride home? We passed a couple on a motorcycle. Jason wanted to chastise them for their lack of helmets. Then we pulled up closer and saw that the woman on the back of the bike was reading! Just chillin’ with her paperback on the back of a motorcycle! Girl after my own heart.

So we got to my in-laws in the mid-afternoon. I had been feeling really good about Zoe being there because we Facetimed with her every night, and whenever we did she was really happy to see us, told us she loved us a million times, gave us lots of kisses through the phone, and then would be like, “Okay, I gotta go watch Powerpuff Girls, bye!” And I thought, wow, what a terrific job I’m doing as a parent. My kid, she’s secure enough that she can be someplace without us and still be happy to see us but not desperate or sad or anything. I get an A+ for the Emotional Health class at Child-Rearing School.

But when my daughter, the love of my life, the light of my soul, my own little mouse who I love the most in the whole world, saw me walk through the door – she burst into tears. “I don’t want to leave!” she complained.

Thanks, kid.

We had dinner with my in-laws – more Yu’s, because it was my birthday and I always want more Yu’s – and then had the cherry pie. We decided the filling was better but the crust not quite as good as the Door County cherry pie we get from Wildfire when it’s in season.

And that was our trip! Thanks for listening! Tune in some time in the near future for this season of SYTYCD!

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