Q&A with Lindsay Navama, author of Hungry for Harbor Country

Part cookbook, part travel guide, Hungry for Harbor Country features more than 50 seasonal, allergy-friendly recipes that capture the beauty, charm, and flavor of southwest Michigan. Long a beloved vacation spot for people from nearby Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis, Harbor Country—a region encompassing eight small towns along the Lake Michigan coast—has always appealed to visitors drawn to its mix of tiny towns and freshwater beaches. After relocating from California, author Lindsay Navama fell in love with the region’s beauty, passionate food community, bounty of seasonal produce, and the area’s many talented farmers, distillers, and other artisans.

Hungry for Harbor Country is the perfect resource for home cooks who want to bring a taste of Harbor Country to their own kitchens as well as for visitors to the region looking for hidden culinary gems. Readers will fall in love with Harbor Country and with the local shops, restaurants, and markets Navama discovered. Whether home cooks are looking for hearty entrees for cold winter nights, sunset cocktails, sweet seasonal treats, or a healthier take on classic favorites, this cookbook has something for every craving—and it will have you thinking about what you’re truly hungry for, in the kitchen and beyond.

Q&A with Lindsay Navama, author of Hungry for Harbor Country

How did you first learn about Harbor Country? What kind of impression did it make on you when you first visited?

My husband and I were Chicago newbies looking for a weekend road trip, and a friend told us about Harbor Country, just 90 minutes from the city, calling it “The Hamptons of the Midwest.” Because the eight little towns are spread out, if you don’t arrive knowing where to go, you might miss what’s so magical about the place all together. And that is exactly what happened to us when we pulled into downtown New Buffalo on a cold, dreary April day, and thought, “cute, but is this it?”

We didn’t return to Harbor Country until three years later, this time seeking the kind of peace, calm, and quiet that driving down long rural roads can deliver. On this visit and over several weekends, we slowly peeled back each layer of the region, revealing the quiet beauty, mellow energy, and cozy community that makes Harbor Country so unexpectedly delicious.

How did you first get involved with cooking and recipe creation? Have you always had a passion for eating and drinking?

Some people eat to live, but I was born into a family that lives to eat! My mom was an awesome cook, always hosting the most delicious dinner parties, and I got to be her sous chef at the ripe old age of six. On vacations, we were always talking about where to have dinner while enjoying brunch and we’d often try to recreate versions of our favorite restaurant meals at home. This taught me the basics of creating my own recipes. My passion for cooking and baking continued to grow as I discovered I could sell things like my peanut butter caramel brownies to friends in high school, and after college, I finally turned my delicious hobby in a business and opened Cookies Couture, a custom bakery in Los Angeles. That experience solidified that my heart is happiest in the kitchen, connecting with people through the universal language of fabulous food.

How do you come up with recipe ideas? Are you inspired by particular ingredients or flavors?

I actually have a recipe of sorts for creating new recipes! I owe a big thanks to my mom for teaching me to cook “without recipes” and instead working to develop my own by being inspired by these three questions:

  • What flavors, textures, colors am I craving right now?

  • What ingredients at the grocery store or farmer’s market are tempting my taste buds as I shop?

  • What components of this dish I’m enjoying at a restaurant do I want to experiment with in my Third Coast Kitchen?

Cooking is my art form and like any artist, my greatest work is created when I’m living presently, with an open heart and curious mind. It’s then that I can soak up all the inspiration around me—whether that’s discovering Japanese sweet potatoes for the first time and deciding to use them in place of bread for French “toast” while doing the Whole30, or being moved to developed vegetable-forward ice creams after picking up beautiful organic zucchini and golden beets at Granor Farms in Harbor Country.

What is your favorite season to visit Harbor Country? Is that also your favorite season for cooking? Why?

Every season brings its own beauty to Harbor Country, but summer takes the cupcake without a doubt! When the u-pick days are long and the options for locally grown produce endless, vibrant inspiration for creating new, plant-forward recipes is everywhere. From the very best berries and rhubarb to salad turnips and ground cherries, Berrien County has some of the most diverse produce in America, second only to California. Summer also means alfresco dinner parties and beach-side barbeques, where people gather to connect and make delicious memories while sharing magical meals along the Third Coast.

What are your top three favorite spots or secret tips for someone who’s planning their first trip to Harbor Country?

  • Slow down. Let the idea of living simply and slowly for a few precious days guide your trip. Plan loosely, leaving plenty of time for naps, long walks ending at Whistle Stop Grocery for a treat, aimless exploration, or an impromptu sunset beach picnic.

  • U-pick. Make a trip to a u-pick farm your top priority if you’re visiting in summer or fall. Harbor Country exists in one of America’s fruit belts and picking your own food is not only fun, but is also an awesome way to ground yourself and reconnect to the earth.

  • Take the time to visit more than one town within Harbor Country. Many people miss out on enjoying the locally roasted coffee from Infusco in Sawyer, having lunch at P
    easant’s Pantry, or perusing the incredibly unique Sawyer Home and Garden Center for fresh summer produce, gifts, plants and much more. If you love live music, take a trip to Three Oaks for dinner and craft cocktails at the Journeyman Distillery’s Staymaker restaurant followed by a show at The Acorn Theater, a magical little venue for live entertainment. In Harbert don’t miss brunch at Luisa’s Café. Everything is delicious and the gluten free scones and oversized cookies are a must—even if you don’t have an allergy! Drive over to Lakeside to buy the freshest seafood at Flagship Specialty Foods and Fish Market. Grab a casual dinner at Red Arrow Road House in Union Pier or go for date night at Bentwood Tavern or The Terrace Room in downtown New Buffalo!

What is your favorite recipe in the book? One recipe that you always go back to?

Such a great question, because every good cookbook I own seems to have at least one recipe that becomes another “go-to” in my kitchen. I was definitely curious which recipe that would be for me in my own cookbook. Enter Beet Red Sunset Salmon with Miso, Maple & Roasted Fennel. I’ve made this recipe more than any other so far, including preparing it for the renowned Chef Joho at a special dinner in Harbor Country. Between the shocking magenta color of the salmon post marinade and the uber umami flavor from combining miso, maple, and pickled beet juice, this dish delivers on everything I look for when placing a new recipe into frequent rotation in the Third Coast Kitchen:

  • Craveable taste

  • Visually beautiful

  • Easy to execute

  • Unique elements

Would this book resonate with food lovers outside the Midwest? 

While the backdrop for this book is Southwest Michigan, the stories and recipes aim to inspire anyone looking for a slice of the sweet life to search out their own “Harbor Country”—a quiet place to discover what they are really hungry for, in the kitchen and beyond.

What’s next for you?

There’s a lot happening! In addition to developing some innovative baby food recipes for my new lil’ nugget miss Stella, I’ve recently launched my new website, ThirdCoastKitchen.com with the goal of creating content that allows people to feed both their bellies and their souls. Additionally, I’m working on a video series documenting stories of the incredible culinary artisans on the Third Coast who have turned their delicious business dreams into a reality. Finally, I’m developing a culinary program to help people clear headspace through meditative cooking and slower living to ultimately discover what they’re hungry for—in the kitchen and beyond.

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