Sunday, February 28, 2010

Homemade Suet

Suet feeders attract some of my favorite birds, like nuthatches and woodpeckers. For years, I've bought suet cakes each winter. This year, for the first time, I tried making my own, a project that was surprisingly easy and successful.

The idea came when I was separating the fat from a pot of chicken stock. I was making soup from the broth but the fat was going to be wasted. I'd just refilled my suet feeders so I had an an empty tray from a commercial suet cake. I put a handful of bird seed (a mix of cracked corn and black sunflower seeds) into the tray and then poured in the melted fat. Stir a couple of times, then out on the porch to harden.

The first homemade cake was a little thinner than the commercial ones, but it worked in the feeder and the birds liked it. The next batch, I had more fat so I made them thicker. My homemade suet was relatively soft and I think it would melt in hot weather, while the factory ones have stabilizers. For me, that's not an issue since I only use suet in the winter.

Suet cakes are cheap enough that I wouldn't recommend buying ingredients just to make homemade suet, but if you have birdseed & fat already, it only takes a few seconds to make them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Great Escapes Chicago

Great Escapes Chicago
by Karla Zimmerman

This guidebook is divided into four sections; Eat, Play, Learn, and Chill. Centered on Chicago, many of its chapters are a bit far for a quick escape from Kalamazoo: cheese in Green County, WI, beer in Milwaukee, art in the Quad Cities. It does devote a few chapters to west Michigan and northern Indiana escapes and Kalamazoo even gets a mention.

1. Beached in Saugatuck
"They call it a 'drinking town with an art gallery problem.' That's not printed on Saugatuck's welcome sign, of course, but locals proudly declare it."
To see and do: Oval Beach, Douglas Beach, Saugatuck Chain Ferry, Mt Baldhead, dune rides, gallery hopping, Ox-Bow School of Art, fruit picking.
Eating out: Mermaid Bar and Grill (340 Water St), Saugatuck Brewing Company(2948 Blue Star Highway) and in nearby Fennville: Journeyman Cafe (114 E. Main St.) and Cranes Pie Pantry (6054 124th Ave.)
They consider South Haven part of the neighborhood: North Beach & South Beach, Kal-Haven Trail, Sherman's Dairy Bar (1601 Phoenix Rd)
Nearby: Holland (camping at Holland St Park, Dutch heritage); Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo

2. Surfing through Harbor Country

"Harbor Country is the collective name of eight small towns just over the Michigan border, stretching for 15 miles along Lake Michigan's shore. The area was popular in the 1920s and 1930s for Chicagoans escaping the city's summer heart. It fell out of favor until a couple of decades ago when many urbanites fixed up second homes here."
Towns: Michiana, Grand Beach, New Buffalo, Three Oaks, Union Pier, Lakeside, Harbert and Sawyer.
To See and Do: New Buffalo Public Beach, Warren Dunes St. Park Beach (camping), surfing, kayaking the Galien River, casino, backroads biking, gallery hopping, theater, wine tours,
Eating Out: Redamaks (616 E. Buffalo St, New Buffalo), Blue Plate Cafe (15288 Red Arrow Highway, Union Pier), Cafe Gulistan (13581 Red Arrow Highway, Harbert), Luisa's Cafe (Red Arrow Highway, Harbert), Oinks Dutch Treat (227 W. Buffalo St, New Buffalo) Drier's meat market (14 S. Elm St. Three Oaks)

3. Top of the Dunes
"After you slog up the hulking sand dune, look over its golden expanse, and have a Lawrence of Arabia moment, it's easy to forget you're just a few miles outside Chicago city limits. The you look into the distance and see a smoke-belching factory and it all comes crashing back. That's the dichotomy of Indiana Dunes, a joint state and national park whose 21 miles of Lake Michigan beachfront hold rustling grasses, half-buried cottonwoods, bird-filled marshes, and pine forests. It shocks and awes that this much nature coexists next to Northwest Indiana's bleak smokestacked landscape of steel mills and oil refineries."
To See and Do:Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes St Park, Mt Baldy Beach, Central Beach, Lake View Beach, Miller Beach, Lake St Beach, Dunes St park Beach, bike the Calumet Bike Trail (See Northwest Indiana bike map), outlet shopping
hiking: Cowls Bog trail(5 mi), Heron Rookery Trail(2mi), Bailly/Chellberg Trail (2.5 mi) Long Lake Trail (1.6 mi)
Eating Out: Lucrezia (428 S. Calumet Rd, Chesterton), Miller Bakery Cafe (555 S. Lake St, Miller Beach), Shoreline Brewery (208 Wabash St, Michigan City)
Nearby: Three Floyd's Brewpub (9570 Indiana Parkway, Munster)

4. Indiana's Amish Country

"The Indiana community is the nation's third-largest Amish enclave-- after those around Holmes County, Ohio, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania-- and it is indeed a different world. Call it life in the past lane. Descended from conservative 16th-century Dutch-Swiss religious factions, the Amish believe modern conveniences detract from family life, and so they shun things like electricity, telephones, and motorized vehicles. They farm the land with horse and plow and travel by bicycle or horse-drawn buggy."
towns: Shipshewana, Middlebury.
To See and Do:Heritage Trail, Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market, Menno-Hof Visitors Center (510 S. Van Buren St , Shipshewana), buggy tours, Gohn Brothers shop, Dutch Country market (11401 County Rd 16, east of Middlebury), RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame
Eating Out: Village Inn (105 s. Main St, Middlebury), Das Dutchman Essenhaus (240 US 20, Middlebury), Kelly Jae's Cafe (133 S. Main St, Goshen)

The guidebook also recommends many escapes inside Chicago that sound interesting: Devon Avenue restaurants, Mexican food in the Pilsen neighborhood, Frank LLoyd Wright & Ernest Hemingway in Oak Park, Chicago Botanic Garden.

You may find this book at your local library or bookstore or through online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Urban Adventure Chicago (Part 2)

Outside Magazine's Urban Adventure Chicago by Lynn Schnaiberg. 2003

Besides the Michigan adventures I posted earlier, this guide recommends several activities in nearby Indiana.

Indiana Adventures

1. Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, Indiana
(bird watching)
"More sandhills gather at Jasper-Pulaski in Indiana than at anywhere else east of Nebraska (32,000-plus staged here in fall 1992)." Peak: late October- early November, at dusk or dawn. Cranes are less concentrated in the spring (March-April).
Directions: From I-94 take US 421 south to IN 143 west. Headquarters and camping at the first Fish and Wildlife Area sign. Observation tower at the second sign.
Jasper Pulaski information

2. East Race Waterway, South Bend, Indiana
"The downtown course comes off the St. Joseph River and has hosted regional U.S. Olympic team trials. But it's beginner friendly, with rescue staff at the ready with throw ropes to get you out of trouble. It's short and fast, normally running around 450 cfs." (June to mid-August)
Directions: exit Indiana Toll Road at South Bend (exit 77). Take Michigan St/US 33/IN 933 south. Left on Colfax across the river, then right on Niles Avenue. Park near Jefferson Ave.
East Race Information

3. Indiana Dunes , Chesterton and Porter, Indiana

"Retreating glaciers left a trail of contradictory plant life here; arctic bearberry grows next to prickly pear cactus, and southern dogwoods grow one dune over from northern jack pines. Sandwiched between Gary and Michigan City, interrupted by a pocket of power plants and down-on-their-luck steel mills, the state and federally protected dunescape is packed into a narrow ribbon along 14 miles of windswept beach." Recommended: Cowles Bog Trail, State Park Trails 8, 9, & 10; camping.
Directions: I-94 to US 20, Mineral Springs Rd to US 12. (State Park I-94 to IN 49, north to park.)
Indiana Dunes state park
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

The book is available at some Michigan libraries and from Amazon or other booksellers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crystal Valley Cross-Country Ski Trail

The Crystal Valley Cross-Country Ski Trail is about 10 miles east of Pentwater, Michigan in the Manistee National Forest, just north of the tiny hamlet of Crystal Valley. It's a couple of hours drive from Kalamazoo and the snow conditions there can be better than Kalamazoo's due to a combination of deeper lake-effect snow and colder temperatures. The trail system is much more extensive than Kalamazoo's local options, easily offering a whole afternoon of skiing.

The trails are groomed regularly by the Oceana Cross Country Ski Association. Restrictions on pedestrians and snow-shoers keep the tracks in good shape. The association developed the trail system and continues to expand it. [pdf trail map]

The trails run through hilly hardwood forests and pine plantations. The "Get off the couch" website has trail descriptions and driving directions for Crystal Valley.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More Kalamazoo Skiing

Kalamazoo had more snow last week, enough that the k-12 schools had a snow day and enough to create a new base for x-country skiing. By this weekend, I figured the trails at my favorite ski local spots would have been packed down by snow-shoers, dog-walkers, and ice fisherman, so I thought I'd try someplace different.

It had been several seasons since I skied at the Oshtemo Township Park but I was at a college event there last weekend & decided to return with the next snow in hopes of less trammeled tracks.

Ski trails start near the park's playground and quickly go into the woods with some moderate hills. There had been enough skiers to lay down decent tracks, although the trails get enough use that some had been rubbed out by pedestrians. There seemed to be a frisbee golf tournament Saturday, but the disc golf course has its own paths separate from the trails. The whole system of trails isn't particularly long, but a couple of laps made a nice outing.

The park is on M-43 just west of Kalamazoo. The entrance is behind the Oshtemo Town Hall (7275 West Main Street, west of the intersection of M-43 and 9th St.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

101 Best Outdoor Towns

101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play
by Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville, 2007.

The authors of this book picked small towns from across the country to create their dream list of outdoor towns. Three are in Michigan, one close to Kalamazoo.

Saugatuck, Michigan

population: 1,040
"For nearly a century, Midwestern artists have flocked to Saugatuck to be inspired by its dunes, magnificent white beach, and pastoral surrounding countryside."
They recommend visiting Oval Beach & Mount Baldhead, biking 25 miles to Holland, Mi, hiking or skiing Saugatuck Dunes State Park, skiing Allegan State Game area, and fishing the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan.
fishing, road biking, hiking, cross-country skiing.
Kalico Kitchen Restaurant 312 Ferry St, Douglas (breakfast served all day),
Uncommon Grounds 127 Hoffman St. (coffee),
Saugatuck Drug Store 201 Butler St (soda fountain),
Wally's Bar & Grill 1228 Hoffman St (margaritas, fresh perch)
Boathouse of Saugatuck 449 Water St (happy hour, Mexican & American food)
Big Lake Outfitters 640 Water St (canoes & bike rentals, fishing supplies)
Running Rivers, Inc. Wade's Bayou Memorial Park, Douglas (kayak rentals)

Cadillac, Michigan

population 10,167
"For a place that shares its name with a famous car brand, Cadillac sure is foot-power friendly."
They recommend the Mackenzie Pathway and the Cadillac Pathway for x-country skiing and mountain biking, a 26 mile stretch of the North Country Trail, the 100-mile White Pine Rail Trail, and the 7 mile bike path around Lake Cadillac. Fly fishing the Manistee River.
Mountain biking, cross-country & downhill skiing, fishing
World Perk Internet Café 5936 East M-55 (espresso)
Terrace Room Restaurant 7880 Mackinaw Trail (Breakfast buffet on Sundays)
Maggie's Tavern 523 North Mitchell (family restaurant)
Lakeside Charlies 301 South Mitchell Dr. (pub)
Hermann's European Café 214 North Mitchell (chef's creations, pastries)

Petoskey, Michigan
population 6,198
"Michigan probably isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of romantic beachside sunsets, but after a clear evening in Petoskey, it might be."
They recommend biking the lakeshore trail that connects to the 29 mile Little Traverse Wheelway; hiking in Petoskey State Park or on the North Country Trail, looking for Petoskey stones (fossilized coral); fishing local lakes or the Bear River; skiing Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, or Nub's Nob; and enjoying the plants and wildlife at Thorne Swift Nature Preserve.
hiking, paddling, fishing, road biking, cross-country & downhill skiing
Horizon books 319 East Mitchell (coffee)
City Park Grill 432 East Lake St (steak)
Mitchell Street Pub and Café 426 East Mitchell St (pub burger)
Bearcub Outfitters 321 E. Lake St. (camp, hike)
Bahnhof Ski Shops 1300 Bay View Drive (ski, kayak)
Bear River Canoe Livery 2517 McDougall Rd (canoe)

This book is available from Barnes & Noble or perhaps at your local library

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Millennium Park Ice Rink

Tucked behind Westnedge Avenue's commercial strip is Portage's Millennium Park Ice Rink. This small outdoor rink is refrigerated so it stays frozen during West Michigan's winter thaws and it's lighted for night skating. It's open Wednesday-Sunday afternoons & evenings. (Open everyday during Winter vacation.)

It costs $4 to skate and skate rentals are $3. There's a small warming hut with benches & lockers and the rental office sells hot chocolate. Parking is behind Best Buy.

In the summer, the rink is a pond with a fountain.

830 Romence Rd (just west of the intersection of Romence and Westnedge.)
Portage, MI

See the Portage Parks department for specific information on hours and on discounts for multiple visits.

Warm weather postponed the rink's planned opening.  The rink is now expected to open by Dec. 15 for the 2012-13 season. It's scheduled to be open daily through December (closed Christmas.) Most days it's open 3-9. It will be open earlier on Saturdays (11 am) and Sundays (noon). In January and February, it will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Outside Magazine's Urban Adventure: Chicago

Outside Magazine's Urban Adventure Chicago by Lynn Schnaiberg. 2003

This guidebook focuses on outdoor sports around Chicago. Chapters are sport specific: Sea Kayaking & Canoeing, Sailing, Windsurfing & Surfing, Scuba Diving, White Water, Fishing, Biking, Mountain Biking, Bird-Watching, Hiking & Backpacking, Rock Climbing, Climbing Walls, Caving, Winter Sports, Running, Hang Gliding & Skydiving, Horseback Riding. Outside Magazine was based in Chicago for years, so they know the area well.

While many of its suggestions are fairly distant from Kalamazoo, in Wisconsin or Illinois, there are nearby adventures since West Michigan is categorized as a "short hop" from Chicago. Here's a selection:

West Michigan Adventures

1. Love Creek County Park (cross-country skiing) "Early lake-effect snow... reason enough for the quick sojourn." 5 miles groomed trails, lighted, fee. Directions: I-94 to US 31 to Old 31 in Berrien Springs. Cross the river & turn left to Deans Hill Road, then right onto Pokagon Rd. Follow signs to park.

2. Grand Mere Trail Road Ride, Three Oaks, Michigan (Road Biking) "For a full day's scenic ride, the 50-mile Grand Mere loop is hard to beat, with mostly flat, quiet country roads punctuated by a few hilly stretches." See several Three Oaks Bicycle Club routes Directions: I-94 to US 12 to then left on Three Oaks Road to the Three Oaks Bicycle Museum.

3. Yankee Springs Recreation Area, Middleville Michigan (mountain biking) "Popular for a reason; these trails are just plain fun, with enough terrain to keep them interesting for more advanced riders." State park fee, camping at Deep Lake Campground. Directions: US 131 north to exit 61. East n County A42 to Gun Lake Road (right), then Gun Lake Road to Yankee Springs Rd (left) to Deep Lake campground parking lot & trailhead.

4. Warren Dunes State Park, Sawyer, Michigan (hang gliding) "Warren Dunes has a long hang-gliding history; early aficionados headed here in the 1970s to learn and train." State Park fee. I-94 to exit 16 (Bridgman). South 2 miles on Red Arrow Highway to park entrance.

5. Saint Joseph River, Berrien Springs, Michigan (fishing)"You want it, the St. Joseph probably has it. 'It's one of the most diverse fisheries around.' " Walleye, steelhead, smallmouth, Chinook, crappie, catfish, brown trout. License required. Directions: I-94 to US 31. South into Berrien Springs. Left on Ferry St, then right onto N. Mechanic to the DNR dam & fish ladder or cross the bridge to Shamrock park.

6. Fly-fishing the Pere Marquette River, Michigan (fishing) "Blue Ribbon trout waters with serious pedigree. The Pere Marquette's tea-colored water offers some 70 miles of first-class fishing, much of it flowing through Manistee National Forest." Steelhead, king salmon, brown & rainbow trout; catch & release section; license required. Directions: US 31 north to Ludington to US 10. US 10 to MI 37. South on 37 to 72d Street. West on 72d to Peacock Rd. Turn right-- river parking 1/4 mile.

7. Muskegon Winter Sports Complex (luge) "Play Olympian for a day by heading to Muskegon, Mi, home to one of a handful of luge runs in the United States." Winter weekends, fee, equipment available. Part of Muskegon State Park. [Muskegon Winter Sports Complex website]

You might also be interested in their nearby Indiana Adventures.

The book is available at several Michigan libraries and from booksellers like Amazon.