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Hungry for Harbor Country: Food, Friendship, and Fun in Southwest Michigan

Lindsay Navama

         Growing up in Tahoe City, a one stoplight town in California’s High Sierra Mountains, Lindsay Navama yearned for the big city life. Los Angeles offered just that, and she was happy there in her career as a recipe developer, personal chef, and  owner of Cookie Culture, a boutique bakery.  

Lake Life Cranberry Limeade Cosmo

         But when she and her husband, David, moved to Chicago for work, Navama felt unmoored and wondered what to do next in her life.

         Lured by articles about the wonders of Harbor Country, the swath of countryside starting at the state line and curving north along Lake Michigan to Sawyer, Michigan, the couple decided to check it out.

         Unfortunately, upon arrival the two were totally underwhelmed.

“We heard people call it the ‘Hamptons of the Midwest but we thought is this it?” says Navama.

Whistle Stop Asian Noodle Salad

         The two didn’t return for several years,  but when they did—they both experienced what she describes as the region’s magic.  It was more than just the beautiful beaches, the eight quaint small towns each unique in its own way, lush farmlands, orchards, rivers, and woods, there was also an appealing vibe. Each visit brought new discoveries– an estate winery, a fun delicatessen that became like a second home, a Swedish bakery that first opened for business in 1912–and new friends.

         Wanting to spend more time there, the couple moved into a small place in New Buffalo and dubbed it “Camp Navama.” There Navama cooked and entertained, developing her own recipes and tweaking them when needed to feed friends on gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, and other diets. She learned the rhythms of the land and seasons such as when deep blue Concord grapes were  peaking at Dinges’ Farm in Three Oaks or when an order of fresh caught sturgeon arrived at Rachel Collins’ Flagship Specialty Foods and Fish Market in Lakeside.

Buffalo Cauliflower

         In ways it was a convergence of Navama’s experiences growing up in the High Sierras and adulthood in the ever-so-hip L.A. food and cultural scene. Navama identified with many Harbor Country residents who moved to or had second homes in the area and brought that big city sensibility with them when it came to art, food, entertaining but appreciated a more rural way of living and a lot less concrete.

         Navama no longer felt lost and instead saw the direction her life should take.

 “I wanted to preserve those memories, great meals, and good times in Mason jars,” she says.     

Of course, jars can’t hold memories, but paper does and so Navama  wrote “Hungry for Harbor Country: Recipes and Stories From the Coast of Southwest Michigan,” (Midway 2020; $34.95).

A great cookbook with 50 recipes and photos by Gabrielle Sukich of Benton Harbor, it’s also a travel guide with small maps, listings of restaurants, wineries, intriguing hideaways, and everything else the area has to offer.

“I never saw myself as living any other place than California and here I am in a tiny town in the Midwest,” she says. “And I’m beyond grateful it happened.”

Whistle Stop Asian Noodle Salad

4–6 servings 

Contributed by Whistle Stop Grocery and Chef Eva Frahm

1 pound angel hair or capellini pasta

5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced

¼ cup plus ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

¾ cup hoisin sauce, divided

1 medium red bell pepper

1 medium yellow bell pepper 

¼ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon garlic chili sauce

Sriracha, to taste (optional)

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the pasta water, if desired. Add the angel hair and cook 7 to 8 minutes until just al dente, so the noodles are still slightly firm and not overcooked. Drain into a colander, rinse gently with cold water, let drain again, then place in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms in ¼ cup of the olive oil for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Season with ⅛ teaspoon of the salt and ⅛ teaspoon of the pepper. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce. Stir to coat and set aside.

Julienne the bell peppers by cutting them into ⅛-inch-thick strips. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining 10 tablespoons hoisin sauce, the remaining ⅓ cup olive oil, the rice vinegar, the garlic chili sauce, and the Sriracha (if using). Set aside.

Add the mushrooms, peppers, scallions, cilantro, and sauce mixture to the noodles. Toss gently to incorporate. Season to taste with the remaining salt and the remaining pepper and transfer to a serving bowl or store covered in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.

Lake Life Cranberry Limeade Cosmo

1 serving 

3 ounces favorite vodka

1 ounce triple sec

2 ounces cranberry juice cocktail

3 tablespoons limeade concentrate, thawed

a cocktail shaker and martini glass in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Add the vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and limeade concentrate to the chilled cocktail shaker. Shake your booty while you shake your Cosmo for about 10 seconds, because why not?!

Reprinted with permission from Hungry For Harbor Country by Lindsay Navama, Agate Publishing, Photos © Gabrielle Sukich.

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