Home Is Where the Coney Is

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Great Lakes. Tigers (the baseball playing kind). “Up North.” Lemonade. Ice cream. Coney dogs.

This eclectic group of pastimes and food cravings describe summertime in Michigan, my home state. And I remembered just what makes summer so summery (besides steamy Midwest temps) in the Great Lake state during a recent visit home to celebrate my nieces Abbey’s and Allie’s graduations.

As my older niece Allie wrapped up her high school career, the primo food event that week centered on her graduation open house – when family and her parents’/grandparents’ friends would embarrassingly (but lovingly) reminisce about “how fast she’d grown up.” And memories and food go hand-in-hand.

Months ago, Allie landed on her open house theme: summer picnic. Daisies and a summer picnic. Let the picnicking begin …

Lemonade + Iced Tea

Every summer picnic’s favorite refreshing combo – as good apart as they are together. A Michigander enjoys an “Arnold Palmer” as much as the next guy.

Who doesn't love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Who doesn’t love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Summer Salad

Michigan builds cars. But did you know we also build a killer salad bar? A real Michigan salad never leaves off dried sweet/tart cherries (sometimes cranberries), crumbly blue cheese, crunchy pecans or walnuts and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Toss in crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, crispy bacon bits – with a side of my mom’s homemade macaroni salad – and you’ve got a picnic salad party.

Fresh Fruit

Traverse City, on the banks of northern Lake Michigan, is one of the world’s cherry capitals. Michigan also happens to grow some of the juiciest, sweetest, bluest blueberries. It’s true. If you’re ever at a Michigan summer picnic without a fruit salad heavy on the blueberries, something has gone wrong.

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Sweet Daisies

Apple blossoms are Michigan’s official state flower, but daisies are a universal summer thing. This picnic sported white chocolate daisy lollipops from a local candy maker among the daisy desserts.

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Not Just Any Hotdog

Hotdogs … an American summer staple. This open house picnic hotdog spread (my sister’s genius) included recipes & ingredients to tailor your ‘dog: Barbeque Bacon-style, Ballpark-style, Chicago-style. But the ultimate Michigan picnic show stealer is the Coney Island Dog (or “Coney” if you’re a local): grilled beef hotdog, with locally made Coney sauce (all meat), yellow mustard and chopped white onion. And you’ll only make the rookie mistake once of describing a Coney as “just like a chili dog.” Flint Coney? Detroit Coney? Different towns put their unique spin on their Coney secret sauce. Serious sauce business … worthy of its own blog post. (Ask Anthony Bourdain, who just scratched the Coney surface during his ‘Parts Unknown’ Detroit journey.)

Uniquely, deliciously, purely Michigan.

If you find yourself exploring Michigan, just ask where to find a good Coney and directions to “Up North” (which really does exist) … and a friendly Michigander will point you the right way.