S. and I had several incredible days up north, with wonderful meals, sun-drenched days, cool evenings, nightly bonfires, cocktails on the dock staring out at the lake – a perfect mini-vacation, and I only had 183 emails waiting for me when I returned to work this morning. And, to be fair, at leasst 40 of those emails were from the automatic system administrator warning me my mailbox was OVER LIMIT, since every other email seemed to include some attachment larger than War and Peace.
The only disappointment came when we realized the 4th of July didn’t coincide with the direct start of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan, as it usually seems to. While we don’t actually go to the festival (ye God, the crowds) we do enjoy watching the broadcasts in the evening. There is an old, crackly television inside the cabin and S. and I over the years have grown used to tuning it to local broadcasts for news and weather every evening at 11:00. Partly we do this to indulge in some light-fun making – so little news seems to happen up there that broadcasts continually repeat stories and footage and by the third time you’ve seen the same woman interviewed regarding her thoughts on the local campground closing, well…perhaps it takes a sick sense of humor to really relish it, but we do. Generally the National Cherry Festival coincides with our July trip and we can receive regular updates on the frog races, the cherry-pit spitting contests, the National Cherry Queen crowning, the dogs-leaping-into-pools-of-water-from-high-dives because the cherry festival isn’t just for people, it’s for dogs, too! but this year the broadcasts from the Open Space (which is the…open space…where the festival is headquartered) didn’t begin until Saturday night, so we only received some airshow and cherry-eating coverage. We were a bit bummed.
Despite the fact that many of my relatives live in Traverse City I’ve never been to the festival. Annually it attracts thousands upon thousands of tourists and since I grew up Up North I quickly learned that my family prefers to avoid the masses of people descending on our shorelines every summer, preferring instead to spend vacations further inland, which tends to be at least somewhat quieter. I can even remember a couple of times when cousins, aunts and uncles would show up in Alpena to spend a few days just to avoid the congestion and chaos that is cherry fest. It used to be an event I longed to attend, if only I had an adult or two in my life willing to brave the crowds and take me, but none ever did and now I am thirty and can’t imagine shoving my way through the crowds that overtake the town.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the fruit our state celebrates and it is prime cherry season here in Michigan. Yesterday I bought a beautiful bag of dark cherries, and I just looked up how long the cherry season lasts here in Michigan and apparently it goes through part of August, so I don’t think this will be the last such bag. Some people go crazy with the cherry recipes over the summer, making everything from cherry pie to cherry chutney, but my tastes are fairly basic – I like cherries plain. If I can find an organic jar of sour cherry preserves, I will buy it. I adore with my whole heart chilled cherry soup (recipe to come later in the summer) and I love Michigan Fruit and Nuts Salad.
Michigan Fruit and Nuts Salad started appearing on Michigan menus oh, I don’t know, ten or fifteen years ago? What began as a sort of “up north” salad quickly became popular throughout the state and now you can walk into most bars and restaurants and get some version of this salad. I’ve traveled quite a bit out of state and I’ve found versions of this salad almost everywhere, so who knows if it really originated in Michigan or not – it doesn’t particularly matter for our purposes. I think it’s like one of those fad food things…like the year every cookie baking person in the world threw away her chocolate chips and walnuts and began baking those cookies that had either white chocolate chips or vanilla chips, dried cranberries or cherries, cashews or macadamia nuts…it’s like some sort of siren call went out and suddenly bakers world-wide made for the dried fruit like automatons. Personally, my personal favorite combination was the white chocolate, dried cherry, cashew version.
S. and I decided to have this salad for dinner last night because it tastes good, is easy to make, and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. After several days of meat-heavy meals and higher than usual carb intake we both were desiring something lighter. As noted, it can be easily manipulated – for instance, my mom hates blue cheese and so eats hers with shredded cheddar while a friend of mine adores blue cheese and so adds said dressing to the top of the salad. I don’t measure when I make this salad…I put a good solid base of mixed greens in a salad bowl and then one layer of every other ingredient, and then I toss the hell out of it.
Michigan Fruit and Nuts Salad:
In a large salad bowl, fill partway up with mixed salad greens. Top salad greens with layers of the following: crushed walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, diced red onion, dried cherries, croutons. Top with 2-4 boneless, skinless sliced chicken breasts, previously marinated in Italian dressing and microwaved for 15 minutes. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic. Mix and serve.
It’s a really great combination of flavors and it’s so easy to make. It’s actually quite hardy without the chicken and I will often exclude it if making it for myself. And, since we used dried Traverse City cherries, we paid a bit of homage to our state as well!