Stops Along the Way…North Star Brick Oven Bakery

Click on the pictures to see bigger ones.

Click to see bigger pictures.

One of the perks of our “wandering minstrel” lifestyle is the opportunities we get to visit with interesting people we meet along the way.  We both love exploring, so we really try to make sure to take the time to stop if something catches our eye.  We seized one such opportunity while working in Michigan’s upper Peninsula near the town of Paradise last summer.  We were on our way to Munising, and were just south of the Tahquamenon Falls on M-123, when a sign caught our eye: North Star Brick Oven Bakery.  We have quite an appreciation for artisan breads, and the place looked so inviting back there off the road nestled against the treeline.

We parked the car, stepped inside and were greeted by Joanne Behm.  She and her husband, Paul, run the bakery. They are a friendly couple and conversation was easy.   Soon we were touring the little bakery and gift shop and learning about life as artisan bread bakers.

The Behms pride themselves on the quality of the breads they make and the ingredients they use.  Their breads are leavened using natural starters, and some of their breads are made with a yeast that is indigenous to the upper peninsula. In addition, they use clean, clear well water and don’t add any preservatives or chemicals.

North Star's Brick Oven

North Star’s Brick Oven

We were surprised to learn there’s no electricity to the area in which they run their business, so Joanne and Paul have become very creative about how to make things work pretty much off the grid.  For instance, they mill their organically grown wheat by hand using a 50- year-old vintage hand-cranked mill! Shari and I have an affinity for the use of vintage tools and processes, so that was right up our alley! In fact, we had fun talking about how we have an antique hand-cranked bread making machine.  It was manufactured by Frary and Clark around 1900 and can make up to six loaves at a time!  We also grind our coffee beans with an antique coffee mill. So our love of the use of traditional methods was something we had in common.

Joanne and Paul’s appreciation of traditional methods also extends to the way they bake. Paul designed and built the brick oven they use for baking their breads.  Before the loaves are put in, the oven is heated by a hardwood fire. When the oven reaches the proper temperature for baking, the coals are raked out, and in go the loaves.  The firebrick retains the heat while the bread bakes, and out come unique beautifully crafted and baked breads.  On the day we went they had several kinds from which to choose.  Hmmm…apple oat, parmesian oregano, cheddar onion, cracked wheat, or country harvest?  We went with a fresh loaf of sourdough.

nsbakeryWe ended our visit back in the front room where we spent some time perusing the gifts and handcrafted items for sale which were displayed against rustic appointments that included an antique stove. Shari found a couple of nicely scented soy candles she wanted to buy.  With our purchases complete we said goodbye to Joanne and Paul. We continued on our way, all the while looking forward to the toasted slices of sourdough bread with butter we‘d be eating later, and feeling grateful for “stops along the way.”                -Wyatt

Firing up the Wayback Machine…

Click on the pictures for a larger view.

I’ve been thinking back on the last three years since we put all our stuff in storage, bought our Minnie Winnie and started our new life as wandering minstrels and authors. That first year we were learning how the “dry camping” and “boondocking” thing worked for the various places in Michigan where we would stay.  You soon find out which big box stores are friendly to overnight parking and where to find places to empty tanks, get propane cheap, and fill up with fresh water.  It’s gotten to be so we know how to “work” most of the places in the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan where we ply our craft.

Our prime spot at the beach!

Our prime spot at the beach!

That first summer we spent a lot of time at Holland State Park during the day.  We’d get there very early in the morning, claim our spot, put out the awning and spend the day at the beach. As evening approached and our day’s work was done, we’d take a quick swim, get the motor home travel ready, and then sit out in the sand in our lounge chairs and watch the sun set over the wide expanse of the big lake   We’d try hard not to blink at the very second it disappeared below the horizon so we could try to see the famous “green flash.”

Holland, Michigan Sunset

Holland, Michigan Sunset

It was that same summer that Shari really put our situation into perspective when she looked at  me with an expression born of epiphany and said, “Wyatt!  We live in a motor home!  We’re driving ten miles a day back and forth to the beach. We can do our work anywhere. Why not take those miles and work our way north and see where we end up?”  All at once we were inspired by this fresh approach to the hours of laboring on phone calls, developing promotional material and wrestling with computers and printers.  We could pick our work environment.  We were in charge!  And instead of driving back and forth between our dry camping spot and the beach, we could just pick a direction and go.

Orchard Beach Campground, gateway to M22.

Orchard Beach Campground, gateway to M22.

So we decided to inch our way up the western coast of Michigan, following US 31 and M-22 much of the way. We found ourselves traveling through quaint little towns and some of the most breath-takingly beautiful hilly and rugged scenery.  Some of the towns had banners up advertising summer concerts, and we began leaving our promotional material with them as we passed through.  We would find a scenic place or state park along the way where we could spend the day and work. It was our mini “blue highways” trip, and established what became our annual “northern tour”.

Thinking back on all of this gets the two of us excited about sharing stories from the last few years, so our future posts are bound to include a few trips in the “wayback machine.”  So if you’re ready–hang on!  Let’s see where we land!                        -Wyatt