An Autumnal Road Trip Through Michigan

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Last week, we took a quick jaunt up to Traverse City, Michigan for some autumnal goodness. We were a little early for the full glory of autumn leaves, but did find some fantastic food and drink!
cider mill during an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
cider donuts on an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
cider donut during an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
Philips Cider Mill was a perfect roadside stop on the way up, with fresh apple cider and scrumptious cider doughnuts!
apple grove in traverse city, an autumn road trip through michigan
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
cider tasting at tandem ciders in traverse city michigan
cider tasting at tandem ciders in traverse city michigan
My little sis has lived in Michigan for years, and recommended Tandem Ciders. Though we tried a couple other hard cider spots, it was without a question the best. It’s a short drive outside of Traverse City, with a small bar, and picnic tables outside. Some of their ciders are available in bottles, while others- like the varieties we chose to take home– are growler-only.
traverse city michigan food during an autumn road trip
In addition to their food truck, Harvest has a downtown location where we sampled some street food favorites. I loved the Flash Fried Beets!
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city winery
Vineyard visits could have kept me there for another couple of days, but I settled for a golden hour drive among them.
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
an autumn road trip through michigan to traverse city
Don’t even think about taking a swim this time of the year (in fact, bundle up for the beach), but isn’t it beautiful?
patisserie amie french restaurant in traverse city michigan
patisserie amie french restaurant in traverse city michigan
And last, but possibly the best is Patisserie Amie, the memories of which were half the reason I planned this trip. The little French cafe was just as good as a remembered, and I insisted on breakfast there two days in a row.

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Autumn Ritual: Visiting an Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio

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We dragged ourselves out of bed extra early yesterday morning so I could relive a childhood autumn ritual. By the time we arrived at Suter’s Cider Press, cars and trucks packed full of apples were lined up in the pre-dawn fog, waiting their turn to feed homegrown apples into the vintage cider press for a winter’s worth of apple cider.
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
While I showed up with no apples in tow, the crisp autumn air and aroma of fresh cider brought back all those wonderful memories of a day of picking apples in my grandmother’s little orchard. Early in the morning (after a breakfast of the sugar stuffed cereal that my mother rarely bought, but grandma could always be convinced to add to the cart), we’d pile in her apple-filled truck and join the line at Suter’s.
Very little has changed since then–though I swear the barn was twice the size last time I visited!
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Apples are fed up into the press…
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
…and the pulp is discarded in a wagon beside the building.
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Then employees funnel the cider into 1 gallon containers, and flush the tank before the next customer’s batch.
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
Visiting a vintage Apple Cider Press in Rural Ohio
And finally, gallon after gallon of apple cider to take home and mull, spike, or freeze for a winter treat.

The press sells cider from their own orchard, but I’ll have to take a second trek back –in the afternoon, thank god– when the store is open. Rather than hanging around and coveting other people’s cider, we took a drive in the country to take advantage of the foggy morning and snap some more photos:

foggy autumn morning in rural ohio
foggy autumn morning in rural ohio
foggy autumn morning in rural ohio cornfield
Do you have any favorite childhood autumn memories or rituals? My other favorite (which I think I’ll skip recreating) was jumping into crisp fallen leaves, raked together in a big pile in the yard.

Eating and Gawking Through Kyoto’s Nishiki Market

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Easy to miss if you’re not looking closely, Kyoto’s Nishiki Market is a branch of the massive Teramachi shopping arcade. We stopped by the bustling market late one morning and filled up on fried foods for much-needed temple traversing energy. Like so many places visited on this trip, I wish we’d had time to slow down and really take it all in (also to digest my food and procure more). I did, however, manage to get some snaps of the abundance of ingredients and prepared foods available at the market. Just don’t ask me to explain to you what all these lovely things are:
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
This booth had a sign prohibiting photographs, which the boyfriend had to point out to me as I was obliviously snapping photos while he procured our sweet-potato-something-or-other on a stick. Whoops.
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Japanese white strawberries. I believe this says 590 yen (almost 6 dollars) for one pack, not the whole box. But that’s not too crazy for Japanese fruit prices, particularly items that are considered delicacies and often gifted.
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
You can never have too many pickled vegetables! Or fish pieces.
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Pufferfish lanterns!
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Nishiki Market in Kyoto
And naturally, one last stop for fried food on a stick :)
Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Take a Stroll Down Narita City’s Historic Omote-Sando Road

More than just a path to this amazing temple, Omote-Sando Road in Narita City, Japan is an attraction in itself. With buildings dating back to the Edo period and shops frequented by locals and tourists alike, we had a blast shopping, gawking and eating our way down the street.

You’ll find plenty of specialty food shops, as well as local crafts. We really could have done almost all of our souvenir shopping here (well, here and the Cup Noodle Museum) and saved the trouble earlier in our trip.

Ok, so not everything is approriate as a souvenir (and good luck getting these through customs), but fun browsing nonetheless.

Not sure what these are. But I really like their packaging design.

There’s even a grocery, if you’re like me and have just as much fun at the grocery store as the tourist spots when you visit a new country.

Some shops clearly cater to tourists, though the overall area has a much less touristy vibe than the streets surrounding temples in Kyoto.

I just like this little guy. He’s a tanuki statue, based on folklore surrounding the Japanese raccoon dog. These statues are common in Japan, symbolizing luck and prosperity.

Narita City is famous for its local specialty, unagi, which is barbequed eel. There’s no shortage of restaurants offering the dish, and we lingered over all the window displays before finally choosing one.

If you’ve never had unagi before, eel might not sound very appetizing. It’s actually really fantastic and one of the more accessible dishes to even picky palates. The fish itself is mild in flavor, with a touch of sweetness from the sauce, and done right, it nearly melts in your mouth!

I opted for the unagi lunch set with cold dipping noodles, divine in hot weather (and much pined for now that I’m back in the US).

Before this trip, I didn’t know that I like sake! Whatever swill I’d been fed previously turned me off of it until I sampled good Japanese sake. Luckily there’s plenty available to bring home at the sake shop, and you can even pick up a gift set with the Narita City airplane logo.

If you’re thinking of visiting, Narita City has resources for planning your stay here.

(this post sponsored by Narita City. as always, all opinions are my own)

A Night Out in Tokyo’s Kichijoji Neighborhood

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Tokyo is huge, and dense. As Anthony Bourdain has observed, you could spend years exploring just one little corner of the city. Which is why it’s so awesome to have a local showing you around their neighborhood! My lovely friend Mai took took us around some of her favorite spots in Tokyo’s Kichijoji neighborhood, giving me a taste of the Japan I’d been missing so much. 

First stop was the (at least locally) famous Iseya Yakitori. All recollection of my camera was temporarily lost in the presence of barbecued meat and beer, but I eventually remembered to Instagram our food!

Along narrow alleys packed full of bars and izakaya perhaps only 20 feet wide, but comprising multiple stories, we climbed to the third floor of this fantastic little bar with rooftop views. My favorite kind of bar; a little divey, plenty of atmosphere, and obviously, bonus points if it feels like you might be in Blade Runner.
Plenty of beer, along with some pretty solid fried shrimp and spring rolls!
Another little narrow bar, counters lined with salarymen– most of whom seemed to prefer the bottom level. The higher floors were less crowded and had great views…but maybe all those stairs aren’t so practical for the serious drinker.
Just a random porthole placed along the stairs. As one does. Not seriously snarking though, I’m sucker for novelty and invariably find these things charming. 
Not our last stop for the night, but the last at which photos were taken, as alcohol and relaxation took over!  
This little place was another three story bar. The third floor was empty when we arrived, and they sent an employee up to bar-tend for just the three of us. What you see is almost the entirety of the floor, and the arrival of 4 businessmen filled up the rest of the space. I’m not so crazy about the cigarette smoke in close quarters, but I love these cozy little bars!

The Whimsical Cup Noodle Museum (and Make Your Own Ramen Factory!)

Yokohama’s Cup Noodle Museum

The Cup Noodle Museum was our first stop on the day trip to Yokohama that included the Raumen Museum (see that post here).  Both were fantastic in their own right, but if I had to pick just one, the Cup Noodle Museum offers far more to do. Read on to see the museum, dining, and make your own ramen experience!

From the beginning, the Cup Noodle museum has a gorgeous, clean, modern aesthetic. My favorite display was the room of all their flavors and brands, arranged in chronological order.

Befitting a museum created to promote a brand, they lay it on pretty thick, fawning over founder Momofuku Ando. Fortunately, it’s exaggerated and stylistic enough that it simply becomes good, goofy fun.

The Cup Noodle Ramen Museum in Yokohama, Japan

Ramen art or Flying Spaghetti Monster origin myth?

Below, a recreation of the little shed in which Ando invented instant ramen.

After you’ve made your way through the museum (or before, if you’re hungry), the Noodle Bazaar awaits! Choose from 8 stands representing noodle dishes around the world.

You’ll order through the familiar ticket machines, then hand your ticket to the staff at the window. Don’t worry, there are English titles on the buttons, so you shouldn’t have any trouble ordering.

Make Your Own Chicken Ramen Factory

The museum offers a hands-on “Chicken Ramen Factory” experience for 500 yen a person. We had Japanese friends call ahead to make a reservation, but you can sign up on the day of at the ticket office as well, just keep in mind they’re likely to be busier on weekends and holidays.

There’s a bandanna (which you get to take home), and an apron waiting for you at the orientation tables.

You’re separated into small groups and assigned a staff member who will guide you through the process, from mixing and kneading your dough, all the way to cutting the noodles. Ours spoke limited English, but he was very sweet and patient with me when I was snapping photos instead of assisting my partner! There’s an English instruction sheet, and you’ll do fine with a little miming.

The cute elderly couple in our group…possibly the only other adults that weren’t accompanying children. Don’t feel self conscious about going, though! No one minds, and I’m sure there’s often groups with a larger concentration of adults.

The staff never stop moving! Above, rushing to clean up while we’re decorating our packaging and waiting for our noodles to be fried.

The staff handles the more dangerous process of deep frying the noodles to dry them in a glassed in kitchen. All baskets are numbered, so the noodles you take home are the exact noodles you hand kneaded, and you can watch your ramen going through the process.

They aren’t only holding out the noodles for my photo; everyone is welcome to crowd around the glass and the staff member who was assisting at your table happily shows you your ramen as it’s processed.

After all our hard work, the finished product!

Before you leave, you’ll want to stop by the gift shop, which has all kinds of fun Cup Noodle souvenirs.

They sell Cup Noodle gift sets, candles, pretty much everything that can be branded, and these fantastic Cup Noodle shaped cakes, a fun twist on a traditional Japanese sweet with azuki bean filling. Lots of these came back with me for gifts!


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Eating at Tokyo’s Jewish Ramen Shop

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The story of Ivan Ramen is an unlikely one. For a foreigner to open up shop in Tokyo and be lauded for making Japanese food is nearly unheard of due to a competitive Tokyo food scene, and the Japanese idea that foreigners simply can’t master Japanese-ness in all its incarnations.
Yet Jewish American Ivan Orkin’s take on ramen catapulted his shop into the Tokyo spotlight, allowing him to open a second Ivan Ramen location in Tokyo, and two New York shops.
We stopped by Ivan Ramen’s original Tokyo location late one afternoon and it’s safe to say that it ruined us for all other ramen consumed during our trip!
The original Ivan Ramen shop in Tokyo
The ticket machine has English, as well as Japanese descriptions on the buttons, so no worries about ease of ordering.
The original Ivan Ramen shop in Tokyo
Ivan Ramen is characteristically small; just the L angled counter you see here…about 8 seats.
The original Ivan Ramen shop in Tokyo
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The original Ivan Ramen shop in Tokyo
We opted for the Special Shio, and the Special Spicy Red Chili Ramen. They were both fantastic. I liked my Spicy Ramen better than the boyfriend’s Shio, though he wasted no time laying into it, so I can’t offer you a better photo. Perfectly cooked noodles, sublime soft boiled eggs, and a flavorful but not too heavy broth all distinguish the ramen from other shops we tried. A quote from this Food & Wine piece on Orkin actually lays it out in a way that makes a lot of sense after tasting both the mediocre and the exceptional on the spectrum of ramen:

 Ramen, really, is basically junk food. But I wanted something you could eat every day and not feel sick. And hopefully, you’ll come back.

Ivan Ramen succeeds on this front (and quite a few others). We made our way back to the train station feeling weighed down only by our yearning for an Ivan Ramen in our little corner of the world.   

The original Ivan Ramen shop in Tokyo
No chance of making it to Ivan’s NYC or Tokyo shops? He has a book out that includes recipes!

The Ramen “Amusement Park” in Yokohama, Japan

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On our recent trip to Japan, we knew we had to visit the Raumen Museum in Yokohama. Already planning on taking a day trip to Yokohama for the Cup Noodle Museum (see that post here), we stumbled across the Raumen Museum, and started referring to it as the “ramen mall”, because as you’ll see, it’s not much of a museum — but in the best possible way!
When you enter the museum on the ground floor, there’s a gift shop and small display on the history of ramen, but we’ll talk about that later, because who stops at the gift shop when there’s ramen to be eaten? The real treat awaits when you step out of the elevator at the basement level: a full scale replica of sections of Tokyo neighborhood Shitamachi circa 1958, the year instant noodles were invented.
This delightful subterranean village is billed by creators of the Raumen Museum as a “food themed amusement park.”
Out of the elevator, you can go down the large staircase to a collection of ramen shops — each representing a regional variation of ramen, or walk around the perimeter of the first basement level, which recreates the narrow alleyways of Tokyo and includes a couple sweet shops and a bar. Naturally we opted to head straight for the ramen.
Standing amidst the carefully distressed faux vintage buildings, under a surreal painted-on sky in the basement of an office building, the whole thing seems wonderfully insane. THIS is how you do a tourist trap. Jazz music playing in the background was punctuated by the sound of planes and air raid sirens, a strange touch given the supposed year of the setting, but one that immediately brought to mind the movie Silent Hill…maybe not what they were going for.
Ordering at all the shops is done through the ticket vending machines next to the door. Insert your money, select the ramen and drinks you’d like (or press a semi-random button next to an attractive photo if there’s no English), hand your ticket to the waiter and take a seat. Most shops offer a mini size, so you can sample multiple dishes.
While we obviously came to eat, I was amused to see that, after paying somewhere around $5 each for admission to the museum, the machines all had notes on them saying “adult visitors are expected to order one bowl of ramen”!
We tried a couple, the first of which was Ikemen Hollywood…mainly because we could read what we were ordering. More fusion than traditional ramen, my Johnny Dip featured Italian basil in the broth. It was pretty good! Of course, nothing at the museum will compare to the ramen shops that are truly serious about their craft, but even average quality ramen in Japan is tasty when you’re accustomed to eating instant.
With bellies full of ramen, we took a walk around the shops on the second level– there’s just a handful of them really, with gaps decorated and lit to resemble apartments, businesses, even a bath house.
When you’re ready to return to the first floor, the gift shop offers an array of ramen ingredients, dishes and souvenirs. Oh, and the requisite museum wall display off in the corner on the history and variations of ramen (all in Japanese, and really not what I was there for at any rate).
Hidden behind the gift shop is a large slot car racetrack, for those feeling nostalgic for the 60s.
All in all, the Raumen Museum is worth a visit, particularly if you’re already going to Yokohama for the Cup Noodle Museum. I enjoy this type of goofy novelty enough that I would have taken a day trip for it alone (and sitting here pondering my lunch options, I wish I could pop in for some ramen right about now!)
For more info on visiting, check out the Raumen Museum website (though some of their information may be outdated, as I could swear they charged us more than 300 yen for admission) or this handy Japan Guide post.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico | Thought & SightWe took a quick weekend trip to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico last weekend…
 While Taos was lovely (with an unbelievably blue sky!), you’ll notice that I don’t have any photos from Santa Fe to share with you. Both are tourist destinations, yet what I saw of Santa Fe was just too commercial and sterile to be compelling (I am, however, happy to report that if you’re in the market for a goth-wild west-prostitute costume, or cheap, clunky southwestern jewelry, Santa Fe has you covered).
Taos, on the other hand, charmed me with it’s reassuringly narrow, crumbling sidewalks, and an abundance of character. In the face of so many twee, bland towns that are barely distinguishable from a large shopping mall, I find that I take sincere delight in something as silly as a poorly kept-up sidewalk. While not a large town by any means, we spent a pleasant art and food filled afternoon wandering around Taos:
Taos, New Mexico | Thought & Sight Taos, New Mexico | Thought & Sight
The small, but beautifully curated Harwood Museum.
Taos, New Mexico | Thought & Sight
 Fantastic food on the patio at La Cueva.
Taos, New Mexico | Thought & SightTaos, New Mexico | Thought & Sight
Taos Cow ice cream! I had the Sweet Cream and the Lavender, both of which were delicious.