(Updated, 11/26/16: fixed broken links, deleted obsolete section about food trucks)
I recently took a ten day trip to Michigan, so here’s a random round-up of some highlights.
Old and New Buildings
Over the last few years, “Old Town” Lansing been greatly improved with spruced-up buildings, antique shops, art galleries, dining spots, a river trail and a truly amazing pet store. Although it is a tiny collection of old buildings compared to Chicago or other larger established cities, I found it cute and a good example of the turn of the 20th century architecture for the region.
Not far from Old Town, a pair of connected buildings near the capitol made a strong impression: the old and new buildings that make up the headquarters of the Accident Fund. The old building is the Ottawa Power Station, a power plant built in the 30s and 40s that operated for many decades. The engineering of the plant was done by the Burns and Roe firm and allowed the architects from the Bowd-Munson Company to create an office-like façade so it could blend into the commercial district. The Bowd-Munson Company had a significant impact on the built environment of the Lansing-area, as a press release from the Accident Fund explained (update: since posting this, the press has disappeared):
The firm was a partnership of Orlie Munson, well-known for his work at MSU (then Michigan Agricultural College) in East Lansing, including Agriculture Hall, Marshall Hall, Giltner Hall, and Spartan Stadium, and Edwin Bowd, a renowned Lansing area architect whose designs included the J.W. Knapp Building, Masonic Temple Building (now Cooley Law School), the Lewis Cass Building in Lansing, and the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason.
I was struck by the soaring verticality of the old power station, the warm reflection of the summer sun on the tall windows that cover the sides of the building, and the subtle variations of the colored brick.
Amazingly enough, the often cold, definitely not tropical, and far from salt water region of mid-Michigan has a shrimp farm. This farm, the Farm Fresh Seafood in Meridian Township, is state of the art in small-scale recirculating aquaculture systems (it was profiled by Edible WOW, in the Spring 2009 issue. They have a retail counter at the farm, sell at the Meridian farmers market (and perhaps others), and have some restaurant clients. I don’t know of any certification standards for this type of aquaculture and the owner is secretive about his methods, so it’s hard to say exactly what their impacts are, but I think the company is worth encouraging, as they are subject to pretty strict environmental laws – i.e., unlike an Asian shrimp farm, they can’t just dump their effluent into a waterway. I ate some shrimp at the Trailer Park’d stand and we used some at home too. We cooked the Sri Lankan prawn curry on page 217 of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s epic “Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent.” Although shrimp preparation took some time, the rest of the dish was quite simple and fast.
We cooked a few other dishes from the Mangoes book. It was my second experience with the book and the second great success. Especially good is the spicy banana pachadi on page 70, a mixture of fried spices, curry leaves, lightly cooked banana, green chilies, and yogurt that is delicious on its own or as a condiment.
Big Wheels on a Small Island
A highlight of the visit was a short trip to Mackinac Island, a bucolic island that is a 20 minute ferry ride from the foot of the Mackinac Bridge. Many decades ago, the islanders decided forbid the mass introduction of motorized vehicles, so the bulk of the traveling on the island is done on foot, on bicycle, or by horse-drawn carriage (the particular challenges of horse-drawn transportation was featured in an episode of Dirty Jobs called “Wild Goose Chase”). Our trip coincided with the 44th Annual Wheelmen Meet, a gathering of people who are “Dedicated To The Enjoyment And Preservation Of Our Bicycling Heritage”. High-wheeled bicycles were all over the place, often ridden by people in period clothing.