Welcome to the Holiday-themed “At Home with Eastbrook.” In today’s episode, Eric Hultgren visits with the Villegas family as they share their Christmas decor inspiration, how they remain present during this different season, and tips for engaging the whole family in traditions. Don’t miss this Christmas fireside chat with the Villegas!”
These outdoor activities will get you started on a path – or a trail or a hill! – to a great winter. And guess what? You can enjoy each and every activity in the Gaylord Area, which is the snowiest place in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
Even though winter is just beginning, the spring thaw will be here before we know it. So, start planning a winter full of fun now, and when the world-famous Gaylord snowman cam shows a scene draped in white, you’ll be ready to get out there and make the most of it!
Here are a few highlights from the Ultimate Winter Checklist to get your wheels turning as you think about how to make this winter a memorable one:
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – Lots of places in Michigan get a bunch of snow. But not every place takes care to groom that snow into trails that are perfect for cross-country skiing. From the scenic Aspen Park right beside downtown Gaylord to the immaculate Forbush Corner in nearby Frederic to the Pine Baron Pathway nestled deep in the Mackinaw State Forest, you’ll find miles of groomed cross-country track in the Gaylord Area – including some trails that are lighted for skiing after dark!
Of course, sometimes nature draws you off the beaten path into the quiet bliss of Michigan’s wilderness. The Gaylord Area also offers endless miles of ungroomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, alike. For example, Pigeon River Country State Forest, also known as Gaylord’s “Big Wild,” is a heavily wooded attraction featuring rolling hills, cascading rivers and glimpses of wildlife around every turn.
Winter rafting – The Gaylord Area is home to the Sturgeon River, which just happens to be the fastest-flowing river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The speedy current means the
Two different outfitters in the Gaylord area offer guided winter rafting down the Sturgeon River, the fastest-flowing river in the Lower Peninsula.
Sturgeon rarely freezes, so even on many of the coldest days of the year you can get out on the water (with an experienced guide) and enjoy a winter rafting trip.
If you’re unsure about being on a boat in the freezing cold, don’t worry. We’re not talking about whitewater rafting here. With an experienced guide at the helm, you’ll stay dry as you soak up the incredible beauty of the river with snow heaped on its banks.
Winter rafting down the Sturgeon is a bucket-list kind of thing you just have to experience.
Downhill skiing, snowboarding and tubing – Not only is Gaylord the snowiest place in the Lower Peninsula, but it’s also the city with the highest overall elevation. That means winter comes earlier and stays later. And, of course, the altitude is great for speeding down the slopes!
The Gaylord Area’s two premier ski destinations – Treetops Resort and the Otsego Resort – offer a combined 50-plus downhill runs carved into the scenic Pigeon River and Sturgeon River valleys, with options for all skill levels. Each resort also offers terrain parks for epic snowboarding as well as family-friendly and extreme tubing runs.
Then, after a busy day on the slopes, you can chill (without feeling cold) with some igloo dining in the Gaylord Area!
Snowmobiling – Another geographic blessing for the Gaylord Area is that it’s smack dab in the middle of Michigan’s Tip of the Mitt. That makes it an ideal hub for accessing 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
Five hundred miles! That’s like going halfway to Florida without ever having to leave the snowy confines of northern Michigan. Whether you head north, south, east or west, you’ll find great sledding for miles in any direction. Then you can come back to Gaylord, park right outside your hotel room for the night and do it all over again tomorrow.
When Shady Lane Cellars, a destination estate winery on the Leelanau Peninsula, decided to seek a third-party certification of its vineyard sustainability practices, the team had to sit down and assess what they’d have to change.
The answer: Not much.
And after documenting and demonstrating the Northern Michigan winery’s dedication to the farm, the surrounding environment and the people who perform the work, Shady Lane Cellars recently earned SIP Certification, becoming only the second in Michigan with the designation and the 25th nationally.
SIP, an acronym for Sustainability in Practice, is a California-based organization with rigorous, non-negotiable standards based on science and expert input, independent verification, transparency and absence of conflict of interest.
“Our core philosophy at Shady Lane Cellars has always aligned with sustainability and doing the right thing the right way for everyone involved,” said Rick DeBlasio, the winery’s general manager. “The fact there weren’t any big differences in what SIP requires and what we were already doing was a great validation of what we believed in from the very start.”
SIP measures a holistic set of practices addressing habitat, water, energy, soil, recycling, air quality, packaging, pest management, social equity, and business management. The practices are verified through independent records and on-site inspections. The vineyard-related standards exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines to achieve organically grown designation.
SIP’s root values include:
Social Responsibility: Competitive wages, medical insurance, training, and education.
Water Management: Reduced/recycled water in the vineyards and winery.
Safe Pest Management: Introduce beneficial insects, attract raptors and plant enriching cover crops to keep vineyards healthy.
Energy Efficiency: Alternative fuels and energy sources like solar and wind; minimal tractor usage; enhanced insulation in winery.
Habitat: Create wildlife corridors and preserve open space.
Business: Ethical practices; treat employees and community with care and respect.
Always Evolving: Evolve as new science, technology and research becomes available.
Beth Vukmanic Lopez, the SIP group’s certification manager, said she was excited to add a second vineyard in Michigan, with WaterFire Vineyards, near Torch Lake, as a partner in practices.
“It is a pleasure to work with a vineyard dedicated to caring for the people and planet,” Vukmanic Lopez said.
DeBlasio believes the SIP Certifed status is proof that Michigan’s growing wine industry is gaining ground.
“Not only can we achieve this certification in a dramatically different growing environment, but a group based in California is willing to put its name on our vineyard here in Michigan,” he said. “That is a real testament to our industry and to this state.”
Shady Lane Cellars has long taken pride in being handcrafted from the ground up and showing a respect for and stewardship of the land. Its hilltop setting, just miles from Traverse City, offers sweeping panoramic views of the 52-acre vineyard farmland.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shady Lane Cellars undertook multiple safety procedures to protect its tasting room guests and the winery’s staff. Now, during the government-required shutdown, it has created an innovative 12 days of Christmas promotion to allow patrons access to wine deals in time for the holiday.
Below is the schedule for the sale that began on Dec. 9 and continues through Dec. 20, with shipping promised before Dec. 25.
In this episode, Amy Sherman sits down with dear friend Bob Benser to talk about Original Murdick’s Fudge staying open year-round, online orders and shipping for the holidays. Murdick’s Fudge is offering a couple special treats this holiday season, including their Sweet Treat of the Week, Michigan Holiday Brittle.
Watch the video below to learn more about it and how you can get a ‘free slice of fudge’.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Eastbrook Homes shines a spotlight on a non-profit they’re thankful for: A.Y.A Youth Collective. In this podcast, you’ll hear from Lauren VanKeulen, CEO of A.Y.A Youth Collective, about their mission to provide resources for youths in crisis. Lauren discusses their heart and mission, the people they serve, the challenges they’ve overcome this year, and how those challenges made them grow and innovate.
It didn’t take Shelby Nickerson long to figure out how CRUST, a Fenton-based artisan bakery, values the people, process and the principled techniques behind its products after she joined the locally owned business in 2014.
“The first thing they said to me was to make sure that our guests are taken care of and given a first-class experience from the moment they enter the door or call us on the phone,” said Nickerson, who now manages the bakery’s retail store and leads front-of-house restaurant staff.
“I could see it in everything that was happening here. There were no shortcuts, from the way the baked goods were crafted and prepared to the family atmosphere among the staff and how it extended to the community.”
And it’s that attention to detail and respect for others that drives CRUST staff every day, particularly as the holiday season starts and families across Michigan begin their annual traditions that reflect the same values as CRUST.
“It’s about food and doing things that bring us together,” Nickerson said. “And then to think that through our breads, our pies, our pastries and our Thanksgiving specials, we’re being invited into these homes and into their lives. It’s really important to us.”
CRUST, which opened in 2012 and has expanded to occupy nearly a full city block in Fenton, prides itself on using all-natural ingredients and eschewing preservatives. Its wide range of baked goods include pies, pastries, muffins, cookies, scones and made-to-order event cakes. The restaurant features handcrafted sandwiches, traditional Italian pizzas, salads and soups.
The bakery’s in-store pickup, delivery and wholesale retail operations have expanded CRUST’s reach to other parts of Michigan and the country. The ability to order online has been appreciated, said Amanda Lobaina, CRUST’s office manager.
“This is not your typical bread, pie or pastry, and people recognize that,” Lobaina said. “We feel that with everything going on this year with the pandemic and more, that people are going to want to do something special for themselves, for their friends or for their co-workers.
“We’re happy to be a part of those celebrations, to bring some joy to others and maybe make life a little easier.”
Lobaina noted that CRUST’s gift collections are popular choices throughout the year, but the care packages are of special significance around the holidays.
The boxes, which are shipped free of charge, can be chosen based on the recipient’s tastes or the time of the day – maybe an office breakfast or a mid-day pick-me-up treat. There are bread offerings for dinners or desserts to share as you swap stories or relax after a long day.
She’s seen an uptick in orders as a general show of appreciation in workplaces, social clubs and among friends. There has also been an influx in corporate gifts, she said.
“There’s something for everyone, and people can take advantage of how we’ve crafted packages for their preferences to satisfy an individual gift or a group.” Lobaina said. “We always hear how much people love giving and getting baked goods.”
Other holiday specials include a German-style Stollen that has rum-soaked raisins and cranberries, real butter, whole and slivered almonds, crystallized ginger, candied citrus peel, nutmeg, and coarse-ground black pepper.
Lobaina described how the loaf is shaped by hand with an interior rope of marzipan and then after baking is dipped in melted sweet-cream butter, rolled in granulated sugar and finished with a drift of confectioners’ sugar.
Another holiday favorite is a traditional Italian-style Panettone that can be an after-dinner dessert, a sweet mid-day snack or the base for an amazing French Toast breakfast. Bakers craft the loaf with vanilla-soaked dark raisins, candied citrus peel, the zest of oranges and lemons and then finish the bread with a crown of coarse pearl sugar.
Lobaina and Nickerson recommended placing orders in advance to ensure availability for holiday gatherings.
“If your heart is set on something, we don’t want anyone to risk coming in and not being able to get it,” Nickerson said. “We want these homemade treats to be a part of your at-home holiday.”
We all could use some encouraging news in our lives right now. On Monday, Nov. 16, MLive partnered with Michigan businesses from across the state to provide meals to health care workers who have been spending lots of hours on the front lines during coronavirus pandemic.
As COVID cases rise here in Michigan, we’ve once again paired some of our Michigan’s Best family of restaurants with our sponsor partners to provide a welcome food hug for our frontline health care workers. Our Michigan’s Best restaurant partners are thrilled to be able to not just help feed essential workers with some of the best food in Michigan, but to also generate some much needed take-out business during these tough times.
Check out the podcast below to learn more about Feeding the Frontlines, how it came to be and how we hope to bring a little joy to our great state.