From a beloved Detroit chocolatier popping up in Traverse City just in time for Valentine’s Day to a blind date with a book you can pick up in Manistee after a day of exploring, here’s what our editors at Traverse Northern Michigan are obsessed with this month.

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Emily Betz Tyra’s February Pick: Meeting My Matcha

Even tea lovers know that matcha on its own can be green, grassy and a tough sell—but with a hint of milk and a kiss of sweetness in a matcha latte? Now we’re lifting the morning fog and our spirits.

One of my recent loves is the matcha lavender latte at Higher Grounds Coffee in Traverse City’s Grand Traverse Commons. The sweet and floral notes of lavender pair with the earthy, umami, bitter notes of matcha and the velvety texture of steamed milk—the result is a blissful sip, without too much sugar or bite. The secret is whisking the matcha at an espresso-like concentration, and then mixing it with a housemade lavender simple syrup.

There’s good reason to swap out your morning coffee for matcha, too. Because it’s made from powdered green tea leaves, matcha offers more caffeine and antioxidants than steeped green tea, but delivers it with the soothing effects of L-theanine, an amino acid that produces a calming effect. Add to that the peaceful scent of lavender and you have the perfect calm-alert cuppa.

Higher Grounds Matcha Tea Latte

Photo by Emily Tyra

Carly Simpson’s Pick: Blind Date with a Book

A few months ago, our editorial team spent a day exploring the Manistee area. We hiked the universally accessible Overlook Trail at Arcadia Dunes, lunched at Ketch22 food truck (you gotta try the Wisconsin cheese curds when they re-open this spring) and shopped downtown Manistee’s boutiques. My favorite find of the day (and an especially fitting item for the month of love) was at Wellnested, where you can buy a “Blind Date with a Book.” The books are wrapped so you don’t know what you’re getting; there are just a few words listed, like “thriller,” “adventure,” “environment” or “romance,” to hint at the genre. (Traverse Area District Library also does blind dates with books for a few weeks every February.)

Book from Manistee

Photo by Carly Simpson

Allison Jarrell’s February Pick: Sunday Family Days at Hop Lot

If you’re looking for the perfect mix of cozy afternoon and outdoor adventure for your littles, Hop Lot Brewing Co. in Suttons Bay has you covered on Sundays this winter. During their “Sunday Family Days,” which run through March, you can score half off their entire kids’ menu, free s’more kits and free hot cocoa. Make a lunch reservation—our 5-year-old and 7-year-old loved eating their grilled cheese and fries in one of the brewpub’s heated igloos—and then head out to the roaring fire pit for s’more making and cocoa sipping. Running around and exploring Hop Lot’s wooded property was the cherry on top for the boys, but for those who want more of an excursion, just head down the street to Stites Natural Area for a short loop hike with a ridgeline view that stretches all the way to Old Mission Peninsula.

Inside the igloos at Hop Lot

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Roasting marshmallows at Hop Lot

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Cara McDonald’s Pick: Standing Date with a Standing O

I’ve been swooning over a recent trip to see the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. My kiddo and I were breathless at the end of a recent TSO concert featuring Beethoven’s 7th and the awe-inspiring Piano Concerto #3 by Rachmaninov. The “Rach 3” has been called the Mt. Everest of compositions in honor of its insane and finger-twisting technical difficulties, making it recognized as the most difficult piece ever written for piano.

We were high on the music (and a fistful of smuggled York Peppermint Patties) when the soloist Sean Chen and maestro Kevin Rhodes brought the piece to a fiery close and the auditorium to its feet. It was the first time my 11-year-old witnessed a real standing ovation—one where we all clapped til our hands hurt and there was no silencing us without an encore.

At the end of the show, a woman behind us put a hand on my son’s shoulder and said, “You don’t know how lucky you are to witness something like that.” It’s true he probably doesn’t—not just the Rach 3, but what it means to have world-class musicianship out in the middle of the woods 20 minutes from town. The TSO is a professional, part-time orchestra with a core base of musicians ranging from faculty and staff members of Interlochen Center for the Arts to instructors in regional school districts. The annual line-up draws packed houses in the dead of winter and showcases symphonic, maestro and jazz series shows with world-class soloists and guests.

As we left the auditorium, an usher asked us how we liked the show, but before we could answer, said, “Can you imagine? That we have this right here?” A regional gem, to be sure.

Photo by Traverse Symphony Orchestra

Lissa Edwards February Pick: Oyster Socials

“Prime season for oyster-eating is early winter as the oysters respond to the cooling temperatures by bulking up.” So goes the online rationale (as if there needed to be one) for the Oyster/Crab Cake Social at Brengman Brothers. Bulked up oysters? I’m in. And all the more wonderful in winter when I am starved for any reminder of things that swim—or cling to rocks underwater as oysters do. It’s not that I don’t like crab cakes. It’s just well, oysters.

The socials started in January and will continue, on Fridays and Saturdays, through February. Seating is by reservation only. On a Saturday afternoon in mid-January, a group of friends and I drove up the winding driveway to the handsome white building that houses the winery, as well as the distillery and eatery. The groove inside is big windows, wood rafters, cement floor, a stone fireplace. Napa, but with snow outside the windows.

While some of us did have crab cakes I ordered up what I came for—six from the Atlantic and six from the Pacific. A Chenin Blanc to go with. They came nested in rock salt—mignonette to spoon over them. The wine was chilled.

In winter, the Brengman Brothers’ website continues, “They begin to build glycogen that adds a scrumptious wave of sugar and fat.” The others talked. I slurped, sipped and let that wave carry me away. Twelve empty shells later, I was sated. And well, maybe even a little frisky.

Oysters at Brengman Brothers

Photo by Lissa Edwards

Rachel Soulliere’s Picks: Bonbons for Valentine’s Day

If you missed it in October, Detroit’s Bon Bon Bon is again popping up at Brew in Traverse City just in time for Valentine’s Day! These two-bite chocolates are filled with local ingredients and artistic interpretations to create flavors that will blow your mind. From a take on classic Michigan bumpy cake to Better Butter Crunch starring Detroit’s favorite Better Made Potato Chips, each bon is sure to leave a lasting impression—and leave you wanting more! While I’m sure they may bring some of their special Valentine’s Day flavors to the pop up, you may also find some additional goodies like their chocolate floppy discs or mix tapes and some official Bon Bon Bon swag.

Here’s when you can find them at Brew and a video below of our fabulous experience at the last pop up:

  • Friday, February 10 | 5 to 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 11 | 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 12 | 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
@rlsoulliere Had to make a stop at the @Bon Bon Bon ♬ Austin Millz Ladies And The City - MillzMondays

Photo(s) by Emily Tyra